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Microsoft Still in Talks to Buy TikTok After Trump Threatens Ban

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  • President Trump on Friday said that he would ban TikTok in the U.S., though he did not specify how he would go about doing so.
  • There are a number of actions he could take, including forcing the sale of TikTok to an American company, though the president initially said he did not favor this idea.
  • The announcement came just hours after it was reported that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok, and the two were close to finalizing a deal.
  • After reports began to circulate that the deal had been put on hold, Microsoft announced in a blog post on Sunday that it was resuming talks after the company’s CEO spoke to Trump.
  • On Monday, Trump confirmed that he had changed his mind about immediately banning TikTok and said that he would allow Mircosoft to continue negotiations for 45 days. If a deal is not struck by Microsoft or another American company in that time, TikTok will go out of business in the U.S.

Microsoft Backtracks

Microsoft announced in a blog post Sunday that it was going to continue discussions to buy TikTok in the United States after CEO Satya Nadella spoke to President Donald Trump, who had previously said on Friday that he would ban the app’s use in the United States.

“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters. 

While the president did not say how he would ban the app, there are several options at his disposal. One possibility would be for Trump to direct the Commerce Department to put TikTok on what’s called the “entity list” which would basically block U.S. companies from having any commercial ties with TikTok.

Another option would be for the president to use a law called the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which allows him to essentially ban any foreign communications products that are seen as a threat to U.S. national security. That option could have a very extreme outcome.

“No American could work for them,”  Stewart Baker, a former National Security Agency general counsel told The Washington Post. The app store couldn’t make them available. American advertisers couldn’t pay them for ads. It would be economically devastating for them.”

A third potential action Trump could take would be to basically force TikTok’s owner ByteDance to sell the app or divest from its U.S. operations. That would be done through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) which recommends to the president if acquisitions should be rejected or reversed on national security grounds.

CFIUS, which is chaired by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, launched an investigation into ByteDance. According to The New York Times, a source said that as a result of the investigation, CFIUS recommended that Trump order ByteDance to divest from TikTok, which is essentially another way forcing them to sell it.

Trump on Friday said that he did not want a deal selling TikTok to a U.S. company, and when asked if he would use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, he said, “I have that authority. I can do it with an executive order or that.”

Microsoft Deal

Trump’s announcement came just hours after reports that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok began to circulate. Following Trump’s announcement, the Wall Street Journal reported Microsoft had put those talks on hold.

In the Sunday blog post, Microsoft dispelled those rumors, while also publicly confirming for the first time that the company was in talks to buy the popular chinese-owned app.

“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns,” Microsoft said in the post. “It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury.”

The company stated it will move quickly and complete the discussions “no later than September 15” and continue to dialogue with Trump and his Administration. Notably, the post also noted that the preliminary proposal would include a purchase of TikTok in the U.S. as well as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand and that Microsoft “may invite other American investors” to be minority owners.

Addressing security concerns, Microsoft said it will add protections and ensure transparency and added that, in addition to other measures, the company will “ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.”

To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States, Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred.”

A deal between Microsoft and TikTok—which would probably be valued somewhere in the billions—would be a huge win for both companies. For TikTok, even though it would be a concession to pressure from the Trump administration, it would still be better than the alternative.

It would allow them to keep the app in the U.S. rather than being banned and taking a huge hit in users right after it was banned in India.

The move would arguably be an even bigger win and a definite huge step for Microsoft. Unlike almost all other big tech companies that are its competitors, Microsoft does not have a social media platform or own a social media company.

If Microsoft did acquire TikTok, not only would it be acquiring its first social media company, it would also be acquiring one of the most popular and fastest-growing platforms. Rather than starting from scratch with a platform that may or may not take off, Microsoft would be diving in headfirst.

Immediately, it would become a major rival to huge platforms like the Facebook-owned Instagram, as well as the Google-owned YouTube, especially because so many tech companies, including Facebook, have been coming up with alternatives to TikTok.

In other words, it would give Microsoft a massive foothold in a consumer market it has not been a part of before and drastically change the landscape of Big Tech in a fundamental way.

Trump Administration Response

On Monday, Trump himself confirmed that TikTok would shut down on Sept. 15 unless it was purchased by Microsoft or another company. He also said that the Treasury Department would need to get a lot of money for the deal, though he did not explain how that would work legally.

According to the Times, Trump changed his mind after several phone calls, including ones from Nadella and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.), who voiced his support for the move on Twitter Sunday.

But there are still some high level members of the administration that believe more needs to be done to crack down on TikTok, including Trump’s top trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has taken a hardline stance on the matter.

“Every time you sign up for TikTok, all your information is potentially going right back to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said on Fox News Saturday,. “The Chinese military and the Chinese government, they can use this social these social media apps to steal your personal information, your business information.

“They use these social media apps to track you and surveil you and monitor your movements,” he continued. “This is a national security threat. So here’s what I would ask the American people. If they’re using TikTok and they hear the president is going to basically ban that, get on the Trump train with that, because that app you’re using, fun as it may be, is dangerous.”

Navarro doubled down on his remarks during an interview to CNN Monday, where he accused Microsoft of selling products to China that enable censorship and surveillance and suggested that Microsoft be required to divest from any business in China if it buys TikTok. 

“I mean, whose software does the People[‘s] Liberation Army in China run on? Microsoft. Who — the Chinese Communist Party, whose software do they use to do their — all the things they do? It’s Microsoft,” he said. 

“So, this is not a white hat company, right? It’s an American company. It’s clearly a multi-national company that’s made billions in China, that enables Chinese censorship through things like Bing and Skype.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also seemed to echo Navarro in an interview with Fox News on Sunday, where he took a hardline on China but also did not rule out a sale.

“These Chinese software companies doing business with the United States, whether it’s TikTok or WeChat, there are countless more, as Peter Navarro said, are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party their national security apparatus,” he said.  

“President Trump has said ‘enough’ and we’re gonna fix it. And so he will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party,” he continued.

When asked if the Microsoft deal would still pose risks, Pompeo responded, “I promise you the president, when he makes his decision, will make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

Politics

Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States

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Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.


May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio

The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.

Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)

The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation. 

The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.

According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.

Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.

However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.

Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.” 

Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.

The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.

The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.

Other Major Races This Month

There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.

In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats. 

The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)

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New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map

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The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.


Appeals Court Ruling

The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.

In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”

The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.

But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.

In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.” 

While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.

Broader Trends

The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.

In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.

Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call

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The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members actions.


Leaked Audio

Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.

The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.

They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public. 

One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.

In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.

“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.” 

Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.

Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.” 

“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”

Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.

“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”

McCarthy in Hot Water

The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.

McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.

McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump. 

Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party. 

Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.

Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”

Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”

Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”

It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.

After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.

“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Axios) (The Washington Post)

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