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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)

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Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium

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The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.


Eviction Freeze Set To Expire

President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.

The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.

While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.

In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress. 

“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said. 

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”

Delays in Relief Distribution 

The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.

Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.

A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires. 

The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape. 

Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.

According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 —  including New York — had not spent any funds at all.

Slim Chances in Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.

However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.

While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.

Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.

“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”

With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.

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

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Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade

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The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.


Mississippi’s Abortion Case

Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.

After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.

Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.

If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.

When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.

As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.

When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”

But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

New Filing Takes Aim at Roe

With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.

“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.

“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers. 

“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.

“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”

The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.

An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.

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

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Republicans Boycott Jan. 6 Committee After Pelosi Rejects Two of McCarthy’s Picks

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The House Minority Leader said that unless House Speaker Pelosi reinstated the two members, Republicans will launch their own investigation into the insurrection.


Pelosi Vetoes Republicans

Republicans are boycotting the select committee to investigate the insurrection after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) rejected two of the five GOP members Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) picked to serve on the panel Wednesday.

In a statement, Pelosi cited the “statements and actions” of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) and Jim Banks (R-In.), whose nominations she said she was opposing “with respect for the integrity of the investigation.”

Jordan and Banks — both staunch allies of former President Donald Trump — have helped propagate the previous leader’s false election claims, opposed efforts to investigate the insurrection, and voted not to certify the election for President Joe Biden. 

A senior Democratic aide also specifically told The Washington Post that Democrats did not want Jordan on the panel because he reportedly helped Trump strategized how to overturn the election and due to the fact he spoke to the then-president on Jan. 6, meaning there is a possibility he could be called to testify before the very same committee.

The aide also said that Democrats opposed Banks’ selection because of a statement he issued after McCarthy chose him.

In the statement, the representative compared the insurrection to the racial justice protests last summer, implied that the rioters were just normal American’s expressing their political views, and claimed the committee was a political ploy “to justify the Left’s authoritarian agenda.”

Notably, Pelosi did say she would accept McCarthy’s three other nominees — including Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Wi.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win.

McCarthy Threatens Separate Investigation

McCarthy, however, refused to select new members, and instead opted to remove all his appointees from the would-be bipartisan committee.

In a statement condemning the move, the minority leader said that Pelosi’s action “represents an egregious abuse of power.” 

“Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth,” he said.

“Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”

Pelosi defended her decision during a press conference Thursday, where she said that Banks and Jordan were “ridiculous” choices for the panel. 

“When statements are ridiculous and fall into the realm of, ‘You must be kidding,’ there’s no way that they’re going to be on the committee,” she added.

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

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