By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday she had yet to decide whether the U.S. House of Representatives will join the Senate in backing legislation to bar federal government employees from using Chinese-owned TikTok on government-owned devices.
“We’re checking with the administration – just in terms of language – not in terms of being opposed to the idea,” Pelosi told reporters. “I don’t know that that will be on the agenda next week, but it’s very, very important.”
The House would need to pass the Senate bill before next week’s expected end of the congressional session.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Twitter Pelosi “should immediately allow an up-or-down vote” on the TikTok government device bill.
If the House approved the measure, it would go to President Joe Biden for consideration.
The Senate voted on Wednesday to bar federal employees from using the Chinese-owned video app TikTok on government-owned devices. It was the latest action on the part of U.S. lawmakers to crackdown on Chinese companies amid national security fears that Beijing could use them to spy on Americans.
TikTok has said the concerns are largely fueled by misinformation and that it is happy to meet with policymakers to discuss the company’s practices.
It said the Senate bill “will do nothing to advance the national security of the United States.”
The legislation would not impact the more than 100 million Americans that use TikTok on private or company owned devices.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre Thursday declined to offer a view on whether Biden would support the TikTok legislation. “We’re going to let Congress move forward with their process,” she said.
There are a range of tech apps including TikTok that are not allowed to be used on White House and other federally owned devices “for security reasons,” Jean-Pierre said.
Many federal agencies, including the Defense, Homeland Security and State departments, already ban TikTok from government-owned devices.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said Thursday the state is joining North Dakota, Idaho and Iowa this week and a growing number of U.S. states in banning ByteDance Ltd-owned TikTok from state-owned devices amid concerns that data could be passed on to the Chinese government. Kemp’s order also bars the use of Tencent Holdings’ WeChat app and Russian-owned Telegram on government devices.
The U.S. government Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful national security body, has for months sought to reach a national security agreement to protect the data of U.S. TikTok users, but it appears no deal will be reached before year’s end.
It said it hoped that rather than continuing down that road, Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who sponsored the Senate bill, would urge the Biden administration to advance an agreement that would actually address his concerns.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin urged Americans to stop using TikTok. “Maybe America has finally reached the point where we realize that our innermost secrets, privacy, security are at stake here,” Durbin told MSNBC.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio on Tuesday unveiled bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok altogether in the United States. At a hearing last month, FBI Director Chris Wray said TikTok’s U.S. operations raise national security concerns.
In 2020, Republican then-President Donald Trump attempted to block new users from downloading TikTok and ban other transactions that would have effectively blocked the app’s use in the United States but lost a series of court battles over the measure.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller, Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)