Trump & TikTok: There's Still Time for to Reverse His TikTok Mistake

President Donald Trump attends a news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 14, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

What’s the status of the TikTok negotiations? In short, President Trump appeared to approve a deal this past weekend, but that won’t be the end of this saga.

For all the twists and turns that have taken place in recent days, there might be a few yet to come.

Microsoft, once seen as the top contender to purchase the Chinese social-media company, saw its bid rejected by ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company. Oracle, whose leadership has cultivated close ties with Trump, then emerged as the app’s primary American suitor, striking a preliminary deal with ByteDance.

The catch: That proposed deal would fail to achieve Trump’s goal of forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok to U.S. investors. The arrangement only offers Oracle and Walmart a combined 20 percent stake in the app. And the TikTok algorithm — its “secret sauce” and a potential avenue of Chinese government meddling via ByteDance — would remain under ByteDance’s control (though Oracle would be able to view it). In short, this fails to resolve the national-security concerns raised by TikTok’s critics.

Meanwhile, as Trump evaluated that proposal, the Department of Commerce issued rules that would prohibit all downloads and updates of the app after September 20 and effectively kill it in the United States after November 12.

On Saturday, he announced his decision: “I have given the deal my blessing. I approve the deal in concept.” In addition to the terms already laid out, Trump said, under this arrangement ByteDance will make a $5 billion payment to the U.S. Treasury, to fund the administration’s proposed “Patriotic Education” commission. (ByteDance maintains that while it will end up paying that sum in taxes, it won’t actually go toward the education commission.)

Confused yet? The acute sense of whiplash familiar to those who have followed this saga only grew this morning.

Trump’s approval “in concept” could be just that. This morning, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany emphasized that Trump only “said we have the workings of a deal.”

And Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a Chinese state-owned tabloid, said on Twitter that Beijing will reject the TikTok deal “because the agreement would endanger China’s national security, interests and dignity.”

All of this shows how Trump has unnecessarily complicated his handling of TikTok. His administration identified a series of concerns that could only be resolved by a sale to U.S. investors, and ByteDance now says that a total sale of the app, due to Chinese government export regulations, is off the table. By the president’s own standard, the right course of action is simple: Ban TikTok.

It’s entirely possible that Trump eventually rejects the Oracle deal, but the sweeteners written into it — such as the 25,000 U.S.-based jobs that TikTok says it would create — have persuaded him to seriously weigh, and approve “in concept,” a significantly flawed proposal.

The president was correct to identify TikTok as a problem, and his flirtation with the Oracle deal is a huge mistake. But there’s still time to correct it.

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