The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, which aired on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, March 26, 2023.
We now turn to Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He joins us from King George Virginia. Good morning, Senator.
SEN. MARK WARNER:
Good morning Margaret.
It was a pretty intense five-hour interrogation of Tiktok’s CEO over the past week. Your bipartisan bill has the backing of the White House and it would deal with Tiktok by giving the Department of Commerce the authority to review and potentially ban technology flagged as a credible threat by US intelligence. Will it succeed in a divided Congress?
Well, Margaret, we now have 22 senators. 11 Democrats. 11 Republicans. We’ve had a lot of interest from the House. I think they wanted to get through their hearing. And while I appreciated Mr. Chew’s testimony, he clearly couldn’t answer the basic question. Ultimately, Tiktok is owned by a Chinese company Bytedance. And under Chinese law, that company must be willing to hand over data to the Communist Party. Or one of my bigger fears, we have 150 million Americans on Tiktok, averaging about 90 minutes a day, and how that channel can be used for propaganda purposes –
or disinformation, advocated by the Communist Party.
But has the White House made it clear to you that they want this bill passed and intend to ban it? Or is a forced sale more likely?
Well, I think the White House is very supportive of this bill. And this is clearly not just a phenomenon in America. We’ve seen Canada act. We’ve seen the British performance. In fact, the Dutch said, if you are a media person, please get off TikTok, the Chinese are spying on you. India has already banned the bill, banned it outright. We’re giving the Secretary of Commerce the tools to ban other tools, force a sale. And at the end of the day, one of the things that could lead to a ban is that the Chinese Communist Party has said that they felt that the algorithm, the source code that resides in Beijing, is so important that they would rather see a ban then give that source code should be placed in a third country which again I think speaks volumes about the potential threat this application poses.
Well, the Commerce Secretary recently said that the politician in her thinks a ban means losing every voter under 35. Forever. And if you look at the use of Tiktok, I mean, last week President Biden showed up and celebrity videos on Tiktok from the White House. Many legislators, including your Democratic colleagues, Senator Cory Booker, use it. A number of house progressives are using it, given the importance of this platform to the Democrats, can you actually get TikTok out before 2024 when you might need it for political outreach?
SEN. WARNER: Margaret, I think there’s a lot of creative activity going on on Tiktok, but I definitely believe that the market — if TikTok goes away, the market will provide another platform and at the end of the day that could be an American company. It could be a Brazilian company, it could be an Indian company. All those companies–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, but the Secretary of Commerce says there will be a political cost if it falls out–
SEN. WARNER: –operating within a set of rules that–
MARGARET BRENNAN: And she’s afraid of that.
SEN. WARNER: I think –
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you give her strength.
SEN. WARNER: Listen, I’ve met with Gina Raimondo on this issue. I think she will make it very clear that she also considers TikTok a threat. And listen, if you could end up with a force sale at the end of the day. And that forced sale also ensures that the core algorithm, the source code, is somewhere other than China, which could be an outcome that would also be successful. Ultimately, you cannot have American data collected. Nor can you allow the communist party to use TikTok as a propaganda tool.
60% of the company is owned by other investors, including US companies. So is this a policy you should really discuss with Americans to prevent them from investing in these types of companies?
Well, that’s one of the reasons why I think our approach – says the RESTRICT Act – instead of tackling Tiktok in a one-off way, whether a few years ago it was Huawei, the Chinese telecom provider or years earlier, the Russian software company Kaspersky. We need a set of tools rules based so they can hold up in court Tiktok would still have its day in court even under our law that says if there’s a foreign technology from a place like China and Russia, and it’s a threat to national security, and one of the things we’re also demanding is that the intelligence community release as much of this information as possible. So it’s not just like, hey, trust the government, we have to defend the case. And I think at the end of the day, if it ends with a ban, there will be other platforms for the literally millions of influencers and people who like this kind of video platform, they can still get it.
Very quick. It’s a bunch of Republican legislators who plan to meet the president of Taiwan when she’s here on US soil. Are there any Democrats, will you?
You know, I’m not sure when the President of Taiwan is coming to the United States…
-they announced March 30 and again in April.
SEN. WARNER: Okay, I’m not sure. Well, if there’s… if there’s been an invitation for me and other Democrats, listen, I’d like to have that meeting too. I believe protecting and ensuring the security of Taiwan is in America’s national interest.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Since you’re on the Senate banking committee, I want to ask you about this ongoing turmoil we’re in. You are one of 16 Democrats who voted in 2018 to change Dodd Frank’s banking rules regarding medium-sized banks. which has obviously been scrutinized because we’ve seen recent problems with that big bank. I know you’ve been defending the vote for the past few days. Do you think more regulation of medium-sized banks is now needed?
SEN. WARNER: Well, Margaret, on Tuesday we’re going to get the facts from the Senate Bench Committee. And if it turns out that a stress test that would have been applied to these mid-sized banks would have picked up on this, I would of course add additional regulation. However, I think it seems to me that two things happened. First, basic banking regulations. If this was just a $5 billion bank, not a $200 billion bank, it should have been noticeable that this management and regulators missed Basic Banking 101, the interest rate mismatch. And two, one of the things I think we also need to look at is that this was the first time we had an Internet-based run. Literally $42 billion was taken out of this bank in six hours. That is the equivalent of 25 cents on the dollar. And I’d like to know why some venture capitalists pushed this run in the first place.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Interesting topic. However, I would also like to ask you about your relationship with the SVB bank and political donations. USA Today had a large list of all entities that the SVB’s political action committee or CEO had donated to. It’s the DNC. It is President Biden’s 2020 campaign. Senator Schumer says he will return or donate the money received. Representatives Maxine Waters, Ro Khanna returned the donations. You received $21,600 from their political action committee, nearly $6,000 from the CEO. Do you feel any pressure to give that money away? Does it make sense?
SEN. WARNER: First, Margaret, campaign contributions have never influenced my policy choices. They never have and they never will. We will hear the facts on Tuesday. And if there are crimes at the bank, of course I will return the money.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Senator, before I let you go, I just want to comment on what you shared with us when we spoke in January, when you were very frustrated that the administration was not sharing more information about the classified material that was wrongly held by the current president when not in office and the former president. You’ve been informed. More clarity on this? More information?
SEN. WARNER: We need more information on these documents. And more importantly, we must ensure that what the Intel community has done to mitigate the damage. And we’re still in talks with the Justice Department, the administration’s position doesn’t pass the smell test. Our job is not to get into the legal ramifications, but to make sure that the intelligence community is doing the right thing. And we have some extra tools, we can limit some of the expenses. We are in active talks with the Ministry of Justice. But we need those documents
MARGARET BRENNAN: Specific to what happened this week in Syria, with the attack of Iran-focused groups on the US presence there. Are you satisfied with the amount of information being shared? What is going on? And should there be a stronger response from the Biden administration to stop these kinds of attacks?
SEN. WARNER: Well, we have a few thousand troops there in Syria and Iraq. I have been notified by the Intel community. To protect, quite frankly, the Kurds who are in the process of destroying the remnants of the ISIS forces, and, quite frankly, to help guard some of the ISIS prisoners. It has been a dangerous area, but I think the administration’s response was appropriate. So far.
MARGARET BRENNAN: However, some of your Republican colleagues have complained publicly that the attack that was fatal Thursday morning was not reported to Congress until Thursday evening. Are you up to that? I mean, Iran was a major topic being discussed on the Senate floor that day.
SEN. WARNER: We have no illusions about the malign nature of the Iranian regime and how they are helping these groups in Syria, Iraq and frankly across the region. But in this case, I think the administration informed us appropriately. And I think the response to the rocket fire or the drone strike of one of these Iranian-sponsored groups. That’s a dangerous part of the world. But our forces are doing something terribly important to make sure we eliminate the last remnants of ISIS.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, Senator Warner, thank you for your time today. Face the Nation will be right back. Stay with us.