TikTok Buys Line to the White House, Schumer

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), and President Joe Biden / Getty Images
March 10, 2023

TikTok has retained a top Democratic public relations firm whose founding partner is a top adviser to President Joe Biden. The move is part of a charm offensive to fight regulation of the popular social media app and comes as the White House has signaled support to ban it in the United States.

SKDK will provide "communications support" for TikTok as it faces bipartisan legislation that could ban its social media platform in the United States because of its links to the Chinese government. SKDK would be a powerful ally in those efforts. Anita Dunn, a founding partner of SKDK, serves as a senior adviser to Biden. In that role, she has shaped the White House response to the discovery of classified documents at Biden’s offices. She and her husband, Biden lawyer Bob Bauer, have been called "the couple at the center of Biden’s inner circle."

Several other former SKDK employees serve in the administration, including deputy White House communications director Kate Berner. SKDK, which has been called the "go-to communications firm" for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) alumni, recently poached Schumer communications director Justin Goodman to lead crisis communications in its Washington, D.C., office.

American intelligence officials have warned that Beijing could use TikTok to surveil Americans and pump pro-China propaganda to the app’s users. The Biden administration has already ordered federal agencies to remove TikTok from government phones. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed an outright ban of the app in the United States, a move that would be devastating for TikTok, which reportedly has more than 100 million users in the United States alone.

Schumer said last month that a national ban of TikTok "should be looked at," but he has not committed to a position on the topic. The New York Democrat has come under fire before for refusing to hold votes to regulate other Big Tech companies. Schumer’s critics pointed out that his two daughters are lobbyists for Amazon and Facebook.

Multiple Schumer veterans work at SKDK. Mike Morey, a former communications director, is a partner at SKDK’s New York City office. Justin Goodman, the Schumer aide who joined SKDK in November, will handle the firm’s "corporate, crisis communications, and public affairs clients." SKDK touts Goodman’s ability to "secure favorable media coverage in major print and cable news outlets."

TikTok, which grants Beijing access to its user data, has mounted a full-court press in Washington and Europe to stave off regulation of the app. The company has recently hosted meetings with think tanks and technology trade groups in Washington to tout a proposal that would let the company continue operations while putting up a firewall between it and China. TikTok’s army of lobbyists have also swarmed Capitol Hill to pitch their proposals to Congress. The company is mounting a similar initiative in Europe called "Project Clover."