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Bipartisan ire flares after POLITICO reveals Chinese Embassy’s quiet TikTok lobbying

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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle aired outrage Thursday after a POLITICO report that the Chinese embassy lobbied members of Congress on legislation that would force the sale of TikTok by its Beijing-based parent company.

“These reports are no surprise. The Chinese Communist Party has a vested interest in keeping TikTok under its current ownership structure in the United States so it can influence and spy on Americans,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), outgoing chair of the House’s select China panel, said in a statement to POLITICO. “The more the CCP digs in to retain control of the platform, the more it demonstrates exactly why we must divest TikTok from the CCP.”

He’s not alone among senior House committee members.

“I don’t like foreign governments, especially adversaries, interfering with our democratic process, but they do,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

“TikTok has no connection with China, I thought, so why would they do that?” quipped Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), a member of the China panel.

“It’s so patently obvious that TikTok is owned and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” he added, “that if it takes the fact that the Chinese Embassy is taking meetings on Hill to convince you of that — you may have been too far gone.”

The lobbying push will backfire, Auchincloss predicted, and the legislation will pass.

Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.), incoming chair of the China panel following Gallagher’s slated exit from Congress this week, said the report “definitely shows that the CCP is very influential on this issue and very active and illustrates the importance of why we need to separate TikTok’s operations here in the United States.”

McCaul’s counterpart urged China to butt out of congressional consideration of the legislation, which passed the House on a bipartisan basis in March. A modified version that Speaker Mike Johnson added to his pending foreign aid package earned the support ofCommerce Committee Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on Wednesday, taking a major holdout off the board.

“China is watching and China has been a part of helping Russia with their invasion of Ukraine,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), his party’s top member on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “China should stay out of this — period.”

TikTok said in a statement that the embassy’s Hill meetings were “news to us.” The Chinese Embassy, however, did not deny having held them. In a statement, embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said that the “Chinese Embassy in the US tries to tell the truth about the TikTok issue to people from all walks of life in the US.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) responded to the POLITICO report with his analysis of why the Chinese government would launch the lobbying push: “Because it risks losing a powerful surveillance capability on unsuspecting Americans and a powerful tool for disinformation and propaganda to advance its interests.”

Katherine Tully-McManus and Rebecca Kern contributed.