Jeff Yass, School Choice Activist, May Have Influenced Trump’s Reversal on TikTok

Donald Trump caused a stir in the political realm last week by launching an attack on a plan that would mandate the sale of TikTok, a stark reversal from his longstanding opposition to the widely popular social media platform and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. Many are attributing this unexpected move to the influence exerted by a prominent advocate of school choice in the United States.

Jeff Yass, a billionaire and the founder of the trading and technology firm Susquehanna International Group, has been actively promoting private school vouchers in recent years. Alongside his wife Janine, they established the Yass Foundation for Education, which offers grants to schools and education organizations nationwide, while also supporting political action committees advocating for school choice in Pennsylvania, his home state.

On the 1st of March, the significant donor Jeff Yass met with President Trump during a retreat organized by the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group that Yass has previously supported. Reports suggest that Yass played a key role in facilitating the meeting as a means of reconciling differences between Trump and the leadership of the Club for Growth following the 2022 midterm elections.

Shortly after their meeting, Trump publicly endorsed TikTok in a post on the Truth Social platform he owns. Without providing any evidence, Trump expressed concerns that banning TikTok could lead to a boost in Facebook’s business and raised allegations of election cheating against Facebook.

Jeff Yass

In addition to being one of the Republican Party’s primary financial supporters, Jeff Yass made substantial contributions to party candidates and committees, including a record $6 million donation to Governor Greg Abbott of Texas. Furthermore, Yass holds a significant stake of approximately 7% in ByteDance, which is valued at $21 billion and constitutes a major portion of his $28 billion net worth.

However, Yass’s stake in ByteDance faces potential jeopardy with the introduction of the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act in the House of Representatives. This bipartisan bill overwhelmingly passed in a 352-65 vote and mandates the sale of TikTok within 180 days if ByteDance fails to comply.

Interestingly, this legislation closely resembles a previous initiative proposed by Trump during his time in office. Trump’s decision to support TikTok now could be seen as an effort to mend relationships with the GOP financial elite amid legal battles and a looming presidential campaign.

Warnings from technology experts and medical professionals regarding TikTok’s addictive nature and negative impact on mental health, especially among youth, have spurred concerns about its potential use in influencing elections. Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, emphasized the risk that the Chinese Communist Party might exploit TikTok for political manipulation.

Recent reports revealed that Jeff Yass has been lobbying Republican lawmakers to oppose the anti-TikTok legislation and has supported politicians who share his stance on the matter. This resistance against the TikTok ban has drawn support from influential figures, including Senator Rand Paul and the head of the Club for Growth.

Despite the ongoing legislative negotiations concerning TikTok, Yass’s spokesperson refrained from commenting, and Trump’s campaign team did not respond to inquiries regarding their involvement in the TikTok discussions.

While some House Republicans indicated that Trump’s altered stance on TikTok would not affect their decisions, certain Senate conservatives, including Rand Paul, could potentially impede the passage of the legislation.

Education policy expert Frederick Hess supported the ban on TikTok, emphasizing the platform’s vulnerabilities and its potential exploitation by the Chinese government. Bart Epstein raised concerns about TikTok’s impact on youth and urged immediate action to address the risks associated with China’s influence through the social media app.

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