DealBook: Nobody Knows What’s Happening With TikTok
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‘Can you believe that?’
Oracle and TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, may have thought they had struck a deal that appeases both the Trump administration and Beijing. But eyebrow-raising comments by President Trump at a news conference yesterday suggest that it’s too early to tell, even as the White House’s deadline for TikTok to sell itself or get shut down is days away.
Mr. Trump said he wasn’t yet prepared to sign off on the deal. “They’re giving me studies on the deal — it has to be 100 percent as far as national security is concerned,” he told reporters. “No, I’m not prepared to sign off on anything.” He’ll be briefed on the latest proposal this morning.
What about that “big payment” to the Treasury? When asked whether the Oracle deal would include a payment to the U.S. government that Mr. Trump called for early in the process — a demand that took the business community by surprise — he answered, “Amazingly, I find that you’re not allowed to do that.” He implied that the companies were willing to pay, an extraordinary suggestion in itself, and said:
I’m saying, wait a minute, they’re willing to make a big payment to the government, and we’re not allowed to take the money? When does this happen? How foolish can we be? So we’re going to, we’re looking into that right now.
You understand that? In other words, I said I want a big chunk of that money to go to the United States government, because we made it possible. And the lawyers come back to me and they say, ‘Well, there’s no way of doing that.’
You know why? Because nobody’s ever heard of that before, nobody’s ever said that before. Nobody’s ever said, ‘Well we’ll approve the deal, but we want a lot of money to go to the government, because by approving the deal we’re making the deal valuable.’ They’ve never heard of that before. OK? Can you believe that?
There is plenty of other unsettled business. Trump administration officials now want U.S. companies to own a majority stake in TikTok, going against ByteDance’s — and, presumably, Beijing’s — desire to maintain control of the business. Asked whether he would favor ByteDance’s retaining control, Mr. Trump said, “Conceptually, I don’t like that.”
Other issues that are still up in the air:
• Whether Walmart (or others) will join the Oracle consortium. Two people said the retail giant was likely to team up with the group, which may explain why Senator Tom Cotton, who represents Walmart’s home state of Arkansas and is a notable hawk on China, has recently been quiet on the matter.
• Whether other Republican lawmakers will step up their opposition, after Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas said they might favor banning TikTok in the U.S. rather than letting ByteDance maintain control.
• Who will run TikTok, since Kevin Mayer stepped down as C.E.O. last month. Vanessa Pappas, the company’s head of North America since 2018, is leading the company in the interim, but executives are considering bringing in an outsider.
People involved in the negotiations tell DealBook they’re exasperated, given the president’s mercurial wants, the hard line taken by Beijing and constantly shifting commercial terms. Asked what will happen next, one source sighed: “Who the hell knows?”
Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin in Connecticut, Lauren Hirsch in New York, Ephrat Livni in Washington, and Michael J. de la Merced and Jason Karaian in London.
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