Advertisement

Trump found one issue Republicans won’t just go along with him on: TikTok

In the years since Donald Trump took over the Republican Party, elected officials have almost never crossed him. The cost of doing so has always been too high.

They didn’t cross him when he broke GOP orthodoxy on free trade. They elected not to buck him when transcript of a phone call revealed he wanted to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dig up dirt on Joe Biden. Many still voted to object to the election results after Capitol riot. And just last month, they torpedoed a bill that swapped restrictions on immigration for aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

But on Wednesday, Republicans found a line they were willing to cross with the once and potentially future president: TikTok. On Wednesday, the House voted overwhelmingly on a piece of legislation that would require the video app’s parent company Bytedance to divest from the company or have it banned.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 13: (L-R) Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Rep. Mike Gallager (D-WI) talk with reporters after the House of Representative’s voted on legislation they co-sponsored to ban TikTok at the U.S. Capitol on March 13, 2024 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to ban TikTok in the United States due to concerns over personal privacy and national security unless the Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance sells the popular video app within the next six months. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

And the vote was not even close. While 50 Democrats voted against the legislation, only 15 Republicans voted against it, allowing it to pass with 352 votes. Given the tight margins in the House these days and how the House often only has legislation that could pass with two-thirds majority, that is a rare feat.

It should be noted that as president, Trump supported banning TikTok. He even put in place an executive order that did ban the app, which the company successfully challenged in court. But this weekend, he said, “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” in reference to Meta executive Mark Zuckerberg.

Despite Trump’s objections, Republicans still went full steam ahead. Indeed, some of Trump’s most ardent supporters — like Representatives Ronny Jackson of Texas, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida and Lauren Boebert of Colorado — voted for the bill. Elise Stefanik, currently in the running to become Trump’s running mate, joined the rest of House Republican leadership in voting for the bill, too.

Last week, Representative Troy Nehls of Texas wore a shirt with Trump’s mugshot to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union. But on Wednesday, he explained why he also voted yes.

“I just say I've been on the record on this for the last year and a half, and I can't change my position on this one,” Nehls said, as he recovered a still-lit cigar from outside the Capitol that he had left while he voted.

Congressman Anthony D’Esposito, who vocally supports Trump despite representing a district that voted for Biden, said he agreed with Trump’s critiques of Meta.

“I think the real reasons that President Trump has come out against it are valid and it is one of the reasons why the Committee on House Administration has done oversight on Zuckerbucks,” D’Esposito told me, in reference to Zuckerberg’s donations to various local governments in 2020.

Jody Arrington, the House Budget Committee Chairman, said he voted for the legislation out of the best interest of his west Texas constituents.

“Generally, I align with where President Trump is but not always,” he said.

The two Republicans who led the charge — Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Select Subcommittee of the Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mike Gallagher — are two of the last “grown-ups” in the party who know how to legislate. Neither voted to object to the 2020 election results.

Gallagher, for his part, voted against impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, while McMorris Rodgers is a former chairwoman of the House GOP Conference. Consequently, as the House GOP offers fewer rewards for getting things done, both are leaving at the end of this Congress.

Gallagher pointed to Trump’s previous actions to ban TikTok. “The goal of the bill is not to shut down TikTok and force its users onto Facebook — that would be a bad outcome,” he told me. “But our bill allows for a divestiture and again, a lot of this process started with the former president in 2020 trying to tackle the national security threat posed by Bytedance’s ownership of TikTok.”

Though Gallager will be out of Congress next year, he made sure to play to Trump’s ego.

“I’m glad we were able to move forward and Trump may, if he gets re-elected, have an opportunity to consummate the deal of the century,” he said.

McMorris Rodgers led the committee that voted unanimously to refer the bill to the floor and called on TikTok to “break up with the Chinese Communist Party”. But she said she agreed with Trump.

“That's a separate issue from this bill. This is a unique bill focused on foreign adversaries,” she said.

Of course, the GOP was not unanimous and some of the loudest pro-Trump voices voted against it, including Representatives Matt Gaetz, Nancy Mace and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

“The government should not be banning apps from the Apps Store,” Mace said. “This bill is a ‘divest and/or ban Tiktok’ bill. Anyone who tells you it’s not a ban is not telling you the truth.”

Greene said the bill would have unintended consequences — before bringing the issue, inevitably, back to herself.

“I’m the only member of Congress that actually got banned on Twitter by an American-owned Twitter and China didn’t do that to me, so I voted ‘no’ for those reasons,” she said.

Still, the fact that most of the Republican Party ignored Trump on this issue just a month after they torpedoed a bipartisan immigration deal for him shows that the former president’s grip isn’t unremitting. He may have the GOP politically, but he doesn’t have them entirely under his thumb when it comes to policy.