TikTok hires another former Biden aide in push to avoid US ban

A former Biden aide is lobbying on behalf of TikTok as the hugely popular social media platform launches an all-out push to avert a U.S. ban. 

TikTok contracted with Ankit Desai, a for-hire lobbyist who briefly served as an aide to then-Sen. Biden in 2005, according to a document filed with Congress Thursday. TikTok hired Desai in late January to lobby on “regulation of content platforms.” 

The most recent lobbying hire comes as Washington appears closer than ever to banning the app, citing data privacy and national security concerns related to TikTok’s links to the Chinese government. 

Lawmakers grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew for roughly five hours on Thursday, and the Biden administration has said the platform can only keep operating in the U.S. if it splits off from its Chinese parent company.

“TikTok has repeatedly chosen the path for more control, more surveillance and more manipulation. Your platform should be banned,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) told Chew at the hearing. 

TikTok has responded by quickly amassing a huge roster of lobbyists with close ties to Biden and congressional leaders. 

TikTok already employs Jamal Brown, who was national press secretary for Biden’s 2020 campaign. Earlier this month, TikTok contracted with SKDK, a powerful consulting firm with close ties to Biden. Anita Dunn, one of the firm’s founders, is currently serving as a senior adviser to the president. 

TikTok and its parent company ByteDance spent $5.4 million on lobbying last year, according to nonpartisan research group OpenSecrets, its highest annual figure.

The social media company deployed 43 lobbyists, including multiple former members of Congress and top aides to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

TikTok has also flooded the Washington, D.C., area with ads expressing the company’s commitment to data privacy and showing how American small businesses rely on the platform. 

Lawmakers on Thursday largely didn’t appear convinced by Chew’s remarks that TikTok does not answer to the Chinese government and that TikTok is designing a plan to have data be stored with U.S. software company Oracle. 

Just a handful of progressives led by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) have come out against banning the app, which is enormously popular with young Americans. 

Chew didn’t weigh in on whether he opposes a sale of TikTok, only noting that American-owned social media companies have had their own data privacy problems. 

Beijing said Thursday it would “resolutely oppose” the forced sale of TikTok, adding that it would damage Chinese investors and hurt the country’s “confidence to invest in the United States.”

Tags Anita Dunn ByteDance Cathy McMorris Rodgers Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy lobbying lobbyist Shou Zi Chew tiktok

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