TikTok has hired a pair of former Obama advisers plus an ex-Disney executive in advisory roles to help ramp up a public relations push aimed at preventing the platform from being banned in the U.S. or divested from its China-based parent company ByteDance due to security concerns.
TikTok has enlisted David Plouffe and Jim Messina – who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, respectively – and later advised Obama in the White House, along with former Disney chief communications officer Zenia Mucha, to help with the campaign to save TikTok. Their hiring was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reported that the three were hired to help coach TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew for over a month before his appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in March. The nearly six-hour hearing proved to be contentious, as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle pressed Chew over concerns that TikTok and its China-based parent company ByteDance pose a threat to U.S. national security.
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TikTok is in the midst of a regulatory review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) – an interagency panel that assesses potential threats stemming from business deals involving foreign entities. CFIUS has reportedly told TikTok that the platform must be divested from ByteDance or it will face a ban in the U.S.
Congress is also considering advancing legislative proposals to ban TikTok. House Republicans are planning to bring up legislation to cut off what House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the “technological tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party.”
A Chinese government official criticized that statement, saying the U.S. should “respect fair competition, and stop suppressing foreign companies.”
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GOP lawmakers have introduced similar legislation in the Senate, where a bipartisan bill known as the Restrict Act would create a framework for federal agencies and the president to ban tech products made by adversarial countries, including China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela.
The trio of advisers TikTok brought in to stave off a ban or forced divestment all have experience promoting high-profile brands, namely Disney and Obama.
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Mucha worked on a broad portfolio during her nearly 20-year tenure at Disney that included geopolitical issues and fan engagement, a highlight of which was securing a deal with the Chinese government to build Shanghai Disney Resort, which opened in 2016.
Aside from his work with the Obama campaign and White House, Messina advised former British Prime Minister David Cameron and also led Priorities USA, which is the largest external fundraising group for the Democratic Party.
Plouffe has worked for a variety of Democratic communications operations and also brings experience in the tech sector, having worked for Uber in a policy and strategy role.
TikTok, Plouffe, Messina and Mucha did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
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