The Hill’s Morning Report — Congress takes blistering aim at TikTok
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House lawmakers on Thursday grilled TikTok’s CEO about national security concerns that the Chinese government is a hidden hand behind the short-form video app that is uploaded and used by an estimated 150 million Americans, including children.
Lawmakers from both parties questioned CEO Shou Zi Chew about potential Chinese government influence during a House hearing in which members of Congress were bluntly skeptical in reaction to TikTok assurances that U.S. users’ data would be protected and that Beijing could not use TikTok or its Chinese owner, ByteDance, to manipulate the content Americans see (The Wall Street Journal).
The Biden administration has threatened a possible U.S. ban if ByteDance doesn’t sell its stake in the popular platform. Hours before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, China said it would oppose any forced sale and that a TikTok divestiture would involve exporting technology, which Beijing must approve (The Wall Street Journal and The Hill). Federal employees and workers in some states are banned from accessing TikTok on government-owned devices because of security concerns.
Bloomberg News: U.S. regulator warns about data security during TikTok hearing.
Chew, 40, who has led the company since 2021, said the Chinese government doesn’t have access to TikTok users’ data via ByteDance. He promoted TikTok’s ongoing efforts to protect U.S. user data and said he has “seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data; they have never asked us. We have not provided it.”
Responding to the heat from Congress, the former Goldman Sachs banker stuck to his assertions.
“I have looked in — and I have seen no evidence of this happening,” Chew repeated. “Our commitment is to move their data into the United States, to be stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel. So, the risk would be similar to [that of] any government going to an American company, asking for data.”
On Twitter following the hearing, a TikTok spokeswoman and the company assailed lawmakers for a hearing the communications executive said “felt rooted in xenophobia” and the company described in a tweet as “political grandstanding” (The Hill).
The Hill: Four key takeaways from the TikTok hearing.
One lawmaker quipped partway through the hearing that the TikTok chief executive was addressing “the most bipartisan committee in Congress” because of the unusual consensus on both sides of the aisle during testy exchanges.
Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) called TikTok an “extension” of the Chinese Communist Party while Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) questioned whether the platform used content moderation tools to remove posts about the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghur ethnic group or the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Multiple members voiced support for legislation to ban the video-sharing app in the U.S., something the Biden administration has weighed. House members on Thursday argued that China’s official resistance to a sale was an indication that the Chinese Communist Party owns the company, which TikTok has repeatedly denied (The Washington Post).
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and 15 other organizations sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers not to place a nationwide ban on the platform, arguing it would have “serious ramifications for free expression.”
Lawmakers on Thursday were animated in a more partisan fashion over the task of budgeting for the year that begins Oct. 1. GOP Rep. Rob Wittman (Va.), speaking at an event hosted by The Hill, said President Biden’s proposed defense budget falls short, citing a threat posed by China (The Hill). Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who testified before the House Appropriations Committee, rejected any budget cuts that would endanger U.S. security and reduce the nation’s war-fighting capabilities (The Hill).
In their most extensive public comments yet on potential budget reductions, Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, criticized an agreement reached earlier this year among more conservative House Republicans to cap all discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels.
House Republicans have yet to unveil the conference’s official budget proposal, but Democrats have filled in the blanks with their versions of conservative budget ideas (The Hill). Democrats tout budget analyses crafted by federal agencies to describe what they see as at stake for everything from Social Security benefits and veterans’ assistance, to help for families with children.
The White House is trying to use the budget to shore up Biden’s vulnerabilities, for example, taking aim at Republicans over security at the U.S. southern border. The president’s team assails budget ideas endorsed by the House Freedom Caucus to try to flip the script about ways to tackle an influx of migrants into the United States (The Hill).
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who testified Thursday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was prepared to discuss his department’s budget proposals. He was pounded by Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) for information sought by the panel as part of its investigation into Biden’s troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 (CNN).
“I’m going to give you until the close of business on Monday to produce that [U.S. embassy] dissent cable to this committee and this Congress so the American people can see what the employees at the Embassy in Kabul were thinking about your policy that they dissented from,” McCaul said.
“This committee and the American people — after what happened, for God’s sake after what happened in that dreadful August — need to see this cable,” he continued. “We need you to respond, and if you fail, I am prepared to serve you with the subpoena.”
Blinken suggested the department could not hand over a cable document itself, but he offered “to make the relevant information in that cable available, including through a briefing or some other method.”
▪ The Hill: The House on Thursday failed to override Biden’s first veto, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to revive the resolution targeting an administration rule related to investing with environmental, social and governance considerations.
▪ CNBC: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday said the Treasury Department is ready to take “additional action if warranted” to stabilize banks.
▪ The Hill: House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) on Thursday brushed aside the idea of turning to a discharge petition to force a floor vote on a clean debt limit increase, arguing it is up to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to avoid national default.
▪ Reuters: Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser on Wednesday said “this is not a credit crisis” in remarks about U.S. bank failures.
▪ The Hill: Democrats who believe the party’s chances in next year’s elections turn on the state of the economy are pushing back against the Federal Reserve’s decision to continue raising interest rates.
LEADING THE DAY
The Manhattan grand jury hearing evidence about former President Trump’s role in paying hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels won’t take action this week, The Wall Street Journal reports. While grand jurors met Thursday, it was to hear another matter unrelated to Trump; it’s common for grand juries in New York to hear multiple cases at a time.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) on Thursday called demands from House GOP leaders to force his testimony an “unlawful incursion” on his ongoing probe into Trump’s role in the scandal. His comments come as lawmakers, led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), demanded the DA turn over all documents and communications about the case (The Hill and Reuters).
The move “is an unprecedent[ed] inquiry into a pending local prosecution. The letter only came after Donald Trump created a false expectation that he would be arrested the next day and his lawyers reportedly urged you to intervene,” Bragg wrote. “Neither fact is a legitimate basis for congressional inquiry.”
▪ The Washington Post: N.Y. prosecutor rebuffs GOP demand for documents related to Trump investigation.
▪ The Hill: Trump calls for removal of every top official investigating him.
▪ The New York Times: Trump investigations present a stress test for justice in a polarized nation.
The New York case isn’t the former president’s only legal issue; Trump faces three other serious criminal inquiries in Washington, D.C., and Georgia as he seeks the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. On Friday, his lawyer Evan Corcoran is expected to testify to a federal grand jury in Washington that is hearing evidence in a Department of Justice probe of Trump’s retention of classified government records at his Florida residence after leaving the White House. The DOJ is also investigating Trump for his efforts to reverse his 2020 Electoral College loss to Biden. And an Atlanta grand jury is eyeing Trump and his allies for pressuring Georgia officials to undo his loss to Biden in the state’s popular vote that year (CNN).
▪ The Hill: Judge orders anonymous jury in Trump sexual battery trial.
▪ The New York Times: Court action underscores peril for Trump in documents investigation.
Democrats, meanwhile, are expressing some frustration that the New York indictment of Trump may come before other investigations seen as looking into more serious crimes, write The Hill’s Mike Lillis and Rebecca Beitsch, specifically the Justice Department probes, a continuation of the laggardness they perceived as the committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol met.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s agenda includes new restrictions on abortion and further loosening gun laws, stances that may help him in his expected run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination but could hurt his chances of actually being elected (Reuters).
▪ Politico: DeSantis has one very big problem: Trump.
▪ The Hill: The Senate Select Committee on Ethics on Thursday formally admonished Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for soliciting campaign funds during a Fox News interview conducted in a Senate building.
Ahead of his anticipated announcement as a 2024 presidential candidate, Biden, joined by his already announced reelection running mate and members of his Cabinet, next week kicks off a 20-state, three-week itinerary under the guise of official events with a decided political tilt to remind voters about policies enacted on his watch. On Tuesday, the president will visit North Carolina to launch what he’s calling the “Investing in America” tour (CNN). Championing federal backing for infrastructure, electric vehicle manufacture, silicon chip manufacture, support for high-speed internet and economic growth, Biden, Vice President Harris and members of the Cabinet will include stops in battleground states. Appearances are scheduled in California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin and Puerto Rico, according to the White House.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) is slamming Democrats, or as she put it, “old dudes eating Jell-O,” Politico reports. As the newly Independent senator races to stockpile campaign money and post an impressive, statement-making first-quarter fundraising number, she has used a series of Republican-dominated receptions and retreats to belittle her Democratic colleagues, shower her GOP allies with praise and, in one case, quite literally give the middle finger to Biden’s White House.
Biden is in Ottawa today to bolster the U.S.-Canada alliance on issues such as the war in Ukraine, migration and climate change, writes The Hill’s Brett Samuels. While in the Canadian capital, he will meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and address parliament, marking the first time a U.S. president has visited Canada since 2018 when Trump abruptly left a Group of Seven gathering while criticizing Trudeau amid a rift over tariffs.
Ahead of the trip, the neighbors reached an agreement that will allow both countries to turn away asylum seekers at their borders at a time when migration has surged across the hemisphere, The New York Times reported Thursday. The deal, which is set to be announced today, will allow Canada to turn back immigrants at Roxham Road, a popular unofficial crossing point from New York for migrants seeking asylum in Canada.
Canada, meanwhile, will provide a new, legal refugee program for 15,000 migrants who are fleeing South and Central America, lessening the pressure of illegal crossings into the United States from Mexico. The announcement is set to remove one of the relatively few disputes between Trudeau and Biden ahead of their meetings.
▪ The Globe and Mail: Biden heads to Ottawa to urge Trudeau to do more, faster on defense and continental security.
▪ The Hill: Four things on the agenda for Biden’s first trip to Canada as president.
▪ Politico: Biden and Trudeau to mix thorny issues with niceties.
▪ Reuters: Biden to have brief meeting with Trudeau political rival on Canada visit.
The vice president and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will depart on Saturday for a three-nation trip to Africa, where Harris will meet with the presidents of Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia. Harris’s visit is set to build on the recent U.S-Africa Leaders Summit that Biden hosted in Washington in December, as the White House continues to push its agenda on the continent amid global competition, notably with China (PBS NewsHour).
▪ All Africa: What Harris’s visit means to Tanzania.
▪ The Hill: The White House is seeing stars, with visits from the cast of “Ted Lasso” to chart-topping singers and actors like “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus — but some critics are questioning whether sharing the spotlight with Hollywood heavyweights is the best image for Biden to project while wars rage on abroad and the nation copes with post-pandemic inflation.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Ukrainian troops will launch a long-awaited counterassault on Russia “very soon” after months on the defensive, now that Moscow’s huge winter offensive is losing steam without taking Bakhmut. The Thursday announcement from Ukraine’s top ground forces commander was the strongest indication yet from Kyiv that it is close to shifting tactics, having absorbed Russia’s onslaught through a brutal winter and prevented Moscow from claiming its first victory since last August (Reuters).
▪ The New York Times: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visits the Kherson region in his second straight day traveling to a frontline area.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: The U.S. will send aging attack planes to the Middle East and shift newer jets to Asia, Europe.
Workers across France walked off their jobs and took to the streets in the first organized nationwide demonstration against raising the retirement age since President Emmanuel Macron pushed his pension overhaul through parliament, bypassing the body by invoking a special provision of the French constitution (The Wall Street Journal).
▪ The Washington Post: Deadly Marburg virus outbreaks reported in East and West Africa.
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Big Oil eyes new deals in North Africa amid rising energy demand.
▪ The Atlantic: Why Latin America keeps talking about a common currency.
▪ The New York Times: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu digs in on court overhaul in the face of mass protests.
▪ Reuters: After Iran, Saudi Arabia will re-establish ties with Syria, sources say.
▪ NBC News: U.S. contractor killed, five service members and contractor wounded in suicide drone strike in Syria.
■ What really broke the banks, by James Surowiecki, contributor, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3Z5Phpr
■ We need an AI rights movement, by Jacy Reese Anthis, opinion contributor, The Hill. https://bit.ly/3lEjEW4
WHERE AND WHEN
📲 Ask The Hill: Share a news query tied to an expert journalist’s insights: The Hill launched something new and (we hope) engaging via text with Editor-in-Chief Bob Cusack. Learn more and sign up HERE.
The House will convene at 9 a.m.
The Senate meets on Monday at 3 p.m. and will resume consideration of a measure to repeal authorizations for use of military force against Iraq.
The president is in Canada where he will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9 a.m. Biden will attend a welcome ceremony and book signing at 11:10 a.m. at Parliament Hill. He will participate in several bilateral meetings with Trudeau before noon.Biden will address the Canadian parliament at 2 p.m. He and Trudeau plan to take questions from the news media at 3:45 p.m. The president and first lady Jill Biden will attend a gala dinner in their honor at 6:15 p.m. at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum. Biden and the first lady will depart Ottawa to arrive in Delaware late tonight. They will remain there through the weekend.
The first lady’s itinerary in Ottawa includes a morning program to watch curling with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and to join a discussion about youth wellness and mental health. Both spouses at midday will visit the National Gallery of Canada for an exhibit celebrating Canadian women artists.
The vice president will ceremonially swear in Eric Garcetti as U.S. ambassador to India at 1 p.m. (Harris and her husband begin a three-nation trip to Africa beginning on Saturday.) Emhoff this morning speaks during an event hosted by the Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security and supported by the governments of Sweden and Romania and International IDEA.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will chair a meeting this morning of the Financial Stability Oversight Council.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will travel to Silver Spring, Md., for a joint community service event at 3:50 p.m. with the Howard University Men’s Basketball Team to highlight HHS and the team’s commitment to improving Black maternal health outcomes.
The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health begins at 11 a.m. led by White House domestic policy director Susan Rice, with pre-recorded remarks from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and participation from Becerra, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and other city and state participants. Webinar registration information is HERE. A fact sheet on policy initiatives is HERE.
➤ HEALTH & PANDEMIC
Women, overweight people and those above age 40 are among the groups that have a greater risk of developing long COVID-19, according to a new report published in the journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) of Internal Medicine. Researchers also found that patients with preexisting conditions like asthma, diabetes and even anxiety or depression were more likely to develop long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms. Those who were previously hospitalized or admitted to intensive care for COVID-19 also were at higher risk.
The authors wrote that the emerging evidence suggested that vaccination reduced the risk of long-term symptoms “even in individuals with other risk factors, such as older age or high BMI” (The New York Times and Bloomberg News).
The New York Times: Autism prevalence rises again, a new study finds. The pandemic may have disrupted the detection of autism spectrum disorder in young children.
Transgender Americans experience stigma and systemic inequality in many aspects of their lives, including education, work and health care access, according to a new, wide-ranging Washington Post-KFF poll. Yet the survey, which encompasses one of the largest randomized samples of U.S. transgender adults to date, found that most trans adults say transitioning has made them more satisfied with their lives.
“Living doesn’t hurt anymore,” said TC Caldwell, a 37-year-old Black nonbinary person from Montgomery, Ala. “It feels good to just breathe and be myself.”
The Washington Post has compiled six key takeaways from the survey, as well as the personal stories of four transgender Americans.
▪ CNN: Mental health struggles are driving more college students to consider dropping out, survey finds.
▪ Kaiser Health News: The policy and politics of Medicare Advantage.
Information about the availability of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots can be found at Vaccines.gov.
Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,060 for the most recent week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Data is reported on Fridays.)
And finally … 👏👏👏 Congratulations to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! We explored some navigationally historic trivia about the nation’s capital and savvy readers made all the correct turns!
Here’s who aced the puzzle: Paul Harris, Richard Baznik, Patrick Kavanagh, Harry Strulovici, Benjamin Osborne, Mary Anne McEnery, Jaina Mehta, Pam Manges, Kathleen Kovalik, Terry Pflaumer, Anita Bales, Robert Bradley, Randall S. Patrick, Stan Wasser, Lou Tisler, Ki Harvey, Jay Morgan, Steve James and Rick Dupre.
They knew that building codes in the District of Columbia prohibit structures from being taller than 130 feet, as per the Height of Buildings Act of 1899 (amended in 1910).
The District returned some land (retrocession) to Virginia in 1847 that had been ceded to the federal government in 1790 for the purpose of creating the nation’s capital city.
Although D.C. streets that run east-west are identified with letters of the alphabet, there is no “J Street.”
All roads really do lead to the U.S. Capitol when viewing the quadrants in the nation’s capital on a map.
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