Rand Paul blocks Josh Hawley's efforts to ban TikTok, joining one of the app's few defenders

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Two Republican senators clashed over TikTok Wednesday, widening a free-speech fight in the party as Congress and the White House consider outright bans of the social media app.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s efforts to fast-track a ban on TikTok nationwide, with his "No TikTok on United States Devices Act, were blocked by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

“We should act decisively to ban TikTok directly,” said Hawley on the Senate floor, arguing the app's possible connections to the Chinese government call for swift action from Congress.

But Paul objected, striking down Hawley's efforts and saying that banning the app would violate the First Amendment.

“This legislation not only violates the First Amendment of those who own TikTok, many of whom are actually Americans, not Chinese,” said Paul. “But it also violates the First Amendment rights of the millions of young Americans who use this social media app.”

Stay in the conversation on politics: Sign up for the OnPolitics newsletter

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during a hearing with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 29, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during a hearing with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 29, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Where TikTok ban stands in Congress

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have increasingly expressed support for banning the app due to the platform’s Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s high profile testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month.

In his testimony, Chew was grilled by skeptical lawmakers over whether the app is conducting surveillance for the Chinese government and how the app collects and stores user data.

Related: Nuclear warfare? China arming Russia? Fears of new Cold War rise.

Chew denied any sort of allegation that the Chinese government could use the app for its own purposes, but to no avail, with lawmakers becoming even more grounded in their opposition to TikTok.

But the app has found some defenders on Capitol Hill, first in progressive House Democrats such as New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who says that banning the app would be an attack on the First Amendment since the app is used by millions of Americans.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on children, Thursday, March 23, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on the platform's consumer privacy and data security practices and impact on children, Thursday, March 23, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

What else did Paul and Hawley say?

Paul’s objection to a ban on TikTok is a sign that banning the app isn’t a one-sided effort from the platform’s opponents. In addition to First Amendment concerns, Paul argued that banning the app wouldn’t protect American user data, considering other U.S.-based tech companies have failed to secure its data before.

“Every accusation of data gathering that’s been attributed to TikTok could also be attributed to domestic big tech companies,” said Paul.

Not only that, Paul warned his GOP colleagues that banning the app could have electoral consequences considering the app’s wide user base.

“If Republicans want to considerably lose elections for a generation, they should pass this bill to ban TikTok.” Paul said. “A social media app used by 150 million American people.”

Hawley responded to Paul’s objections, saying that the First Amendment does not protect the right of the “Chinese government to spy on Americans.”

“Scour the First Amendment, I promise you, you won’t find any right to espionage, you won’t find any right to spy,” Hawley continued.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., departs the chamber during the vote to confirm former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as the next ambassador to India, more than a year and a half after he was initially selected for the post, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 15, 2023.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., departs the chamber during the vote to confirm former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as the next ambassador to India, more than a year and a half after he was initially selected for the post, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

Dig deeper:

Tick-tock, TikTok: As Biden sets deadline for ban of social media app, here's what we know

Cybersecurity pro: TikTok may be fun, but you should consider removing it

Related: Lawmakers say TikTok hearing validated security concerns. But TikTokers aim criticism at Congress

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rand Paul blocks Josh Hawley efforts in Senate to ban TikTok