Senate Democrat stressing patience on anti-TikTok bill has former top aides working to fight it – Washington Examiner

A Democratic senator who is a key player in the TikTok fight on Capitol Hill has seen several of her senior aides depart to work on behalf of the Chinese-owned social media app, records show.

Senators on both sides of the aisle raised concerns on Wednesday after receiving a classified briefing from national security officials on the threats posed by TikTok, which, under a bill being mulled in the upper chamber, could be banned from app stores in the United States if its Chinese parent company ByteDance does not divest from the app. While the White House is calling on the Senate to approve the bill and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk, one lawmaker who has urged alternatives and patience is Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA) — whose office recently employed three staffers now tasked with thwarting the anti-TikTok measure as lobbyists and consultants.

Coupled with Cantwell’s cautious approach to the anti-TikTok bill, the ex-staffers could become a talking point for lawmakers hoping to pass the measure on Capitol Hill, who in recent weeks have warned that senators will aim to slow roll the legislation until it potentially dies. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who supports the bill, recently said, “They will try to kill this slowly, refer it to committee … think about it some [more], and this time next year, we’ll be right here having the same conversation.”

Following the classified briefing on Wednesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said that “TikTok is a gun pointed at Americans’ heads,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) expressed “deep concern about the threat of TikTok from both sides of the aisle.” Cantwell, on the other hand, did not call for a vote and said she “might” coordinate a TikTok hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, Congress has a two-week Easter recess beginning on Monday, meaning such a hearing wouldn’t take place until at least mid-April.

The Senate Commerce Committee, which Cantwell has chaired since 2021, has primary jurisdiction over the anti-TikTok bill.

One of several firms registered to lobby for TikTok is Mehlman Consulting, which employs Rosemary Gutierrez, ex-deputy chief of staff for Cantwell between 2015 and 2020. Gutierrez is listed on Senate lobbying disclosures totaling $880,000 for TikTok since 2021.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) speaks before Vice President Kamala Harris gives remarks ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act at McKinstry on Aug. 15, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

Lobbyists at Mehlman Consulting have donated to some House Democrats who voted against the anti-TikTok bill in March, the Washington Examiner reported.

Michael P. Meehan, another longtime Cantwell staffer, now runs Squared Communications, a political consulting firm working on behalf of TikTok, Politico reported. Ex-Commerce Committee Staff Director Kim Lipsky, who worked under Cantwell, is a registered lobbyist for ByteDance, according to Senate filings.

Lipsky donated previously to Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), who opposed the anti-TikTok bill, the Washington Examiner reported. Lipsky has also cut checks to Cantwell this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Meanwhile, TikTok-funded groups are on a mission to convince lawmakers to back off from targeting the social media app. White House national security adviser John Kirby urged lawmakers to advance the debated legislation “swiftly.”

“We want to see divestiture from this Chinese company because we are concerned, as every American ought to be concerned, about data security and what ByteDance and what the Chinese Communist Party could do with the information that they can glean off of Americans’ use of the application,” Kirby said.