8 min read

Bipartisanship: not just for TikTok!

13 bipartisan moments from this week on Capitol Hill.
Bipartisanship: not just for TikTok!
Photo by Solen Feyissa / Unsplash

Good morning! It’s Friday, March 15, 2024. Election Day is 235 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

Welcome to your weekly roundup of bipartisanship and government function in Washington.

This week, we have an obvious starting point: the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, better known as the TikTok bill, which passed the House in a sweeping bipartisan vote, 352-65.

The measure would require TikTok to either be sold by its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, or face a ban from U.S. app stores. Technically, the bill also applies to any social media application that is “controlled by a foreign adversary” and “determined by the President to present a significant threat to the national security of the United States” — but the measure takes the rare step of singling out TikTok and specifically applying its provisions to the popular video app.

I’ve been noting for months that taking on Big Tech and countering China are two of the most promising areas for bipartisan action in Washington. This bill sits at the intersection of both, which is why it was primed from its inception for such an overwhelming stamp of approval. The process behind the measure has also been bipartisan at every stage: it was written by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), the chair and ranking member of the select committee on China (which has been an “oasis of bipartisanship” in its own right), and sailed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a 50-0 vote before reaching the House floor through suspension of the rules.

It is genuinely rare for a bill this controversial and consequential — affecting an app that 170 million Americans use — to be approved by such a lopsided vote. Because neither party whipped their members on the legislation (a trend that has been increasing), lawmakers were released to vote their will, which created some fascinating cross-party coalitions.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) both voted for the measure, while Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voted against it. House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-NY) split with Jeffries and opposed the bill; Trump allies like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) split with the ex-president and backed it.

Supporters of the bill argue that TikTok poses a grave threat to national security, citing the possibility of the Chinese government obtaining Americans’ personal data or using the app’s algorithm to meddle in U.S. politics. (Advocates often compare it to Russia owning CBS or NBC in the midst of the Cold War.) Opponents of the bill have raised First Amendment issues, arguing that the measure would violate free speech rights.

The debate over the legislation also provided an unusually public glimpse into influence peddling on the Hill. Previous efforts to rein in Big Tech have attracted bipartisan support but fallen victim to the industry’s expensive lobbying efforts. TikTok, which deployed Kellyanne Conway to lobby lawmakers, tried a similar strategy with little success, although it did manage to flip Trump flip against the bill after a meeting with Jeff Yass, a Republican megadonor with a 15% stake in ByteDance. But House Republicans largely ignored him. (TikTok’s attempt to get its users to call Hill offices also appeared to backfire.)

Of course, the bill still faces one more obstacle before becoming law: the Senate. (President Biden has already announced his support). There, too, lobbying efforts are underway: It’s no coincidence that TikTok has retained the services of multiple former aides to Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA), whose panel has jurisdiction over the measure (and who has expressed skepticism towards the legislation).

The measure may stall in the Senate, although it received a boost this week when Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) and vice chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) released a joint statement endorsing the bill. “The Senate will review the legislation when it comes over from the House,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement, notably stopping short of committing to holding a vote on it.

To summarize, this bill brings together a lot of the trends I’ve been tracking here at Wake Up To Politics:

  • Partisan realignment creating room for cross-party agreements on Big Tech and China, as Republicans grow more populist and Democrats grow more protectionist.
  • Party leaders increasingly handing over the reins on big votes and allowing members to vote as they wish, occasionally creating a Congress with more fluidity and potential for consensus.
  • Bipartisan bills going through suspension of the rules in the House (a fast-track process requiring two-thirds support), a consequence of Kevin McCarthy’s deal to stock the House Rules Committee (which major bills traditionally have to go through) with right-wing members.
  • Donald Trump’s shaky influence over congressional Republicans, who often follow his lead but have also frequently bucked him on bipartisan votes (especially on issues, like this one, where his position conflicts with the GOP base).

The TikTok vote also shows that both chambers can be engines for bipartisan legislation, not just the Senate, where most cross-party bills originated earlier in the Biden era. In fact, right now, the Senate is sitting on two major bills that received blowout votes in the House: the TikTok bill and the bipartisan tax deal, which was approved 357-70. The House, meanwhile, is debating how to handle the Senate foreign aid package, which passed 70-29 in the upper chamber.

Here’s more bipartisan news from this week:

#1: House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) made his most overt comments yet signaling plans to vote on a bipartisan Ukraine aid package, telling Politico that he expects to hold a vote on the aid using suspension of the rules. “There is a right and wrong,” Johnson said this week. “There’s good versus evil, in my view, and Ukraine is the victim here… I understand the timetable and I understand the necessity of the urgency of the funding.”

There are a lot of ideas being floated in the House on how to get the package through, including possibly seizing frozen Russian assets to pay for the aid. Johnson has also suggested that the main portions of the Senate aid package could be split up, with the House holding separate votes on Ukraine and Israel assistance.

#2: Meanwhile, as Johnson mulls his next move, a pair of discharge petitions have emerged to work around him on foreign aid. (If a majority of House members sign a discharge petition, a bill can be sent straight to the House floor without the speaker’s sign-off.) One petition has received 177 signatures (all Democrats), while a bipartisan alternative has gained 14 supporters (eight Republicans and six Democrats).

You can track both petitions as they gather signatures here and here — it is a cool way to watch democracy in real-time, as lawmakers attempt to use a rare tactic to assert the will of a House majority. Either petition would need 218 signatures to force a floor vote.

#3: Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced a bipartisan bill to reauthorize a key foreign surveillance tool, known as Section 702, while also requiring agencies to obtain a warrant before accessing the content of American communications swept up as part of that surveillance. Section 702 is set to expire on April 19; lawmakers in both parties have called for reforms to the program to be included in its reauthorization.

#4: Four senators — two from each party — introduced the Geothermal Energy Optimization Act, which would streamline the permitting process to allow for an expansion of geothermal projects on public lands. Geothermal energy — which taps into heat from within the earth — is a clean, renewable energy source that does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions. It is currently only used to produce 0.4% of America’s electricity, but the Energy Department has estimated that the potential geothermal energy supply is large enough to power the entire U.S. five times over.

#5: Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) teamed up to re-introduce the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, which would nationally ban no-knock warrants, which allow law enforcement officers to enter a property without knocking on the door, ringing the doorbell, or otherwise notifying its residents.

#6: A trio of Missouri congressmen — two Republicans and one Democrat — introduced the Pony Up Act, which would require the U.S. Postal Service to reimburse Americans for any late fees that were incurred on bills that did not arrive on time because of delayed mail service.

#7: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a forum featuring former Alabama coach Nick Saban to discuss legislation standardizing the rules of how college athletes are compensated for their names, images and likenesses. The issue has attracted bipartisan attention, and lawmakers from both parties attended the event. Cruz said there is a 50-50 chance of Congress passing a bipartisan NIL bill before the end of the year.

#8: A bipartisan bill to simplify the deadlines for requesting disaster assistance was sent to President Biden’s desk.

#9: The Senate unanimously approved two bills aimed at improving the nation’s recycling and composting systems.

#10: The House unanimously approved a bill requiring FEMA to review whether its assistance is reaching people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

#11: The House voted 391-32 in favor of a bill to reauthorize a federal program increasing access to dental health care for underserved populations.

#12: The Senate voted 89-1 to confirm a new U.S. ambassador to Haiti, amid an escalation of gang violence in the country.

#13: And, finally, I always like to end with something lighter. Here’s a fun example of bipartisan comity from this week on the Hill:

As always, if you appreciate this weekly focus on things getting done in Washington — or if you learned about something you hadn’t otherwise heard about — I hope you’ll consider donating to ensure I can continue putting it out. WUTP wouldn’t be possible without your support.

More news to know.

Prosecuting Trump: Judge says either DA Fani Willis or prosecutor Nathan Wade must step down in Georgia election case (ABC)

Race for the Senate: Schumer discusses ‘long-shot scenario’ with Manchin: Last-ditch Senate run in West Virginia (CNN)

TikTok: Former Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is putting together an investor group to buy TikTok (CNBC)

Running mates: Abortion is a top concern for Trump as he considers his VP pick (NBC)

More reads on function and dysfunction: Why Congress is becoming less productive (Reuters)

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will meet with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and deliver remarks at the Friends of Ireland Luncheon, an annual bipartisan St. Patrick’s Day event at the Capitol. Vice President Harris will host a roundtable on marijuana policy with rapper Fat Joe, Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY), and others.

Congress: The House and Senate are out for the week.

Supreme Court: The justices will meet for their weekly conference to discuss pending cases and petitions.

Thanks for reading.

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— Gabe