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Tipsheet

Oh, So That's Why Biden Isn't Jumping to Ban TikTok

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File

As a growing number of states implement TikTok bans for official devices and a bipartisan group of lawmakers advance legislation to restrict or ban apps from a collection of adversarial nations, President Biden has been playing the part of a "know-nothing" when it comes to TikTok. 

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The Wall Street Journal's John McKinnon noted as much in a story on Monday, calling the president "largely silent" on the issue of TikTok and what role it plays in China's surveillance or interference operations in the United States. In White House press briefings last week, Karine Jean-Pierre also dodged questions about what Biden's thinking or plans are regarding TikTok. So, why is Biden — and his White House — playing coy?

Well, McKinnon has a solid theory that, at least in part, explains why Biden has been seemingly slow-walking executive branch negotiations regarding TikTok and refusing to be straightforward about his position on how the app should be handled. 

"A major unspoken problem for the president, according to political strategists, is that trying to force an outright ban on TikTok—as many Republicans are seeking—would sacrifice what is emerging as a vital campaign asset for Democrats with the 2024 election season looming," McKinnon writes. 

Well, there you have it. Banning TikTok would cut off a key channel through which Democrat candidates reach voters, especially young Americans, meaning such a prohibition would not only hurt the CCP, but also Democrats — and more than a ban would hurt Republicans. And while young voters generally side with Democrats, TikTok plays a role in driving turnout and energizing young voters who don't get the majority of their news through traditional channels.

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But, as American Foreign Policy Council Fellow Michael Sobolik points out, not only is making a decision about TikTok based on partisan politics a bad idea, but it's not going to be any less of a factor after the 2024 cycle:

Getting rid of TikTok wouldn't just impact Democrat campaigns, either. The Biden administration has repeatedly turned to TikTok influencers with audiences of millions to help push their preferred narrative to the app's users, including messaging about Russia's war against Ukraine and the falsely named Inflation Reduction Act

One Democrat-backing operation told WSJ that "TikTok can be a valuable weapon, especially since Republicans have run away from it for political reasons," adding Democrats "wouldn't want a tool like that to be taken off the shelf." McKinnon also quoted a Democrat consultant's explanation that TikTok is "the dominant platform" for Gen-Z voters and it would be "politically insane" for Biden to ban the platform before 2024. 

As WSJ reminded, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo recently said this quiet part out loud in a Bloomberg interview: "The politician in me thinks you’re gonna literally lose every voter under 35, forever."

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The White House and President Biden are sure to face more questions in the days ahead about whether the administration will seek to ban TikTok — or require it to make changes or find new ownership to remain active — in the U.S., but allowing politics to be a factor in the decision would be another mistake for this White House. 

Foreign adversaries should be addressed swiftly, and complaints from Democrat campaign consultants shouldn't cause Biden to avoid dealing with TikTok and the threats it poses to the United States and its citizens. But, as Americans learned from Biden's handling of the CCP spy balloon, he's unlikely to move decisively. In this case, though, it's even worse since Biden's hesitancy appears to be due to a desire to give Democrats a campaign advantage at the cost of allowing China to continue using TikTok unimpeded in the U.S. 

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