Libertarian-minded Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is breaking with the national security hawks in his party on efforts to ban the popular social media app TikTok.
Citing freedom of speech, Paul blocked a move Wednesday by China hawk Josh Hawley (Mo.) to ban the platform.
"We should not let fear of communism cause us to ignore our First Amendment protections of free speech. This legislation would require our president to ban TikTok,” Paul said.
The Biden White House and members of both parties have moved to ban TikTok, citing national security concerns over its ties to China.
Two major bills targeting TikTok have been floated: one, from Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), would directly ban the app. The RESTRICT Act, sponsored by Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John Thune (R-Sd.) gives the federal government broad discretion to regulate and ban foreign technologies.
The RESTRICT Act has drawn particular attention as a potential threat to civil liberties. The bill imposes 20-year prison sentences for violating restrictions on loosely defined transactions with a "foreign adversary."
Hawley brought up his own TikTok bill for a vote Wednesday by unanimous consent, which allows just one lawmaker to block. Paul did just that, saying the ban would set a bad precedent.
"I despise these people, but I’m not going to vote to ban them,” he said. “We don’t ban things that are unpopular in the United States.”
Rubio pushed back on Paul, saying "we're not trying to ban booty videos."
“This is not a First Amendment issue because we’re not trying to ban ‘booty videos’ — I don’t know that there’s a better term for it,” Rubio said. “It’s not about the content of the videos that are online. It is about the dangers to our national security that are presented by the way this company functions.”
Separately, Paul told Fox News that the government can't single out a company in a piece of legislation.
"Any bills that name a particular organization have a constitutional problem … not allowed to write a specific law against a person or a company. The First Amendment also requires the government to stay out of regulating speech or preventing speech."
Hawley told the Washington Examiner that TikTok's content isn't the issue, saying, "The reason to ban it is it is an espionage tool of the CCP."