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Trump's Treasury demand poses another threat to a potential TikTok sale

President Trump said twice Monday that the U.S. Treasury would need to get a portion of the sale price of TikTok, as a condition of regulatory approval.

Why it matters: This is akin to extortion — the sort of thing you'd expect to hear on a wiretap, not from the White House in front of reporters.


  • Trump has claimed that his threats to ban TikTok, and the furious M&A process it spawned, are based on national security concerns.
  • But, this is inconsistent with requiring payment for deal approval, even if such a thing were legal. Either a sale agreement satisfies national security criteria or it doesn't.

Between the lines: That's because Microsoft isn't the only party kicking TikTok's tires, as Trump also said. Multiple sources tell Axios that Apple has expressed interest, albeit no sources inside of Apple, and that at least one other strategic has expressed interest.

  • It would be an unusual deal for Apple, given that TikTok is a cross-platform app, and a bigger political headache than Tim Cook may want (both here and in China). But the company certainly has the cash on hand.
  • An Apple spokesperson told Axios there are no discussions about buying TikTok, and the company isn’t interested.

The big picture: It obviously behooves current TikTok owner ByteDance for there to be multiple suitors when it comes to pricing. Multiple suitors also could help the White House secure concessions.

  • Private equity is also circling, including some firms that don't have current stakes in ByteDance. But no sources have noted one that's terribly optimistic that they can pull it off without finding an insider or major strategic with whom to partner.

Flashback: It's reminiscent of how Huawei was used as a chip in U.S.-China trade negotiations, as if its perniciousness waxed and waned with the number of soybeans China agreed to buy.

  • The president's comments came shortly after an "Axios Re:Cap" interview with Peter Navarro, in which the White House's top trade adviser suggested that a buyer may have to offer different concessions, such as reducing non-TikTok business activities in China.

The state of play: There is no way ByteDance would pay a portion of sale proceeds to U.S. Treasury, if only because of the PR ramifications in China.

  • Even if ByteDance would allow TikTok's buyer to codify such a payment in its sale agreement, which is doubtful, it's (almost) inconceivable that any U.S. corporation would do so. It's an Action Park-level slippery slope.

The bottom line: There is no guarantee a deal will be struck by Trump's Sept. 15 deadline, let alone one on the terms he claims to require.

  • If not, he'll either have to ban a service beloved by tens of millions of voters, less than two months before the election, or kick the can down the road.

Trump introduces Amy Coney Barrett as nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg

President Trump announced he's nominating federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

Why it matters: She could give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the high court, and her nomination sets in motion a scramble among Senate Republicans to confirm her with 38 days before the election. Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have the votes to confirm Barrett with the current majority.

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Why it matters: President Trump's message at this week's virtual UN General Assembly was short and relatively simple: global institutions like the World Health Organization are weak and beholden to China; international agreements like the Iran deal or Paris climate accord are "one-sided"; and the U.S. has accomplished more by going its own way.

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Why it matters: The New York City metropolitan area was seen as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the spring. But strict social distancing and mask mandates helped quell the virus' spread, allowing the state to gradually reopen.

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America on edge as SCOTUS, protests and 2020 collide

Rarely have national security officials, governors, tech CEOs and activists agreed as broadly and fervently as they do about the possibility of historic civil unrest in America.

Why it matters: The ingredients are clear for all to see — epic fights over racism, abortion, elections, the virus and policing, stirred by misinformation and calls to action on social media, at a time of stress over the pandemic.

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The long-term pain of the mental health pandemic

A less visible but still massive trauma caused by the coronavirus is becoming clear: our mental health is suffering with potentially long-lasting consequences.

Why it matters: Mental health disorders that range from schizophrenia to depression and anxiety exert a severe cost on personal health and the economy. Addressing that challenge may require out-of-the-box solutions.

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Preview: "Axios on HBO" interviews Bob Woodward

On the next episode of "Axios on HBO," journalist Bob Woodward tells Axios National Political Correspondent Jonathan Swan why he spoke out about President Trump being the "wrong man for the job."

  • "I did not want to join the ranks of the Senate Republicans who know that Trump is the wrong man for the job, but won't say it publicly," Woodward said.

Catch the full interview on Monday, Sept. 28 at 11 p.m. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

Trump picks Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Supreme Court

Judge Amy Coney Barrett — expected to be named by President Trump today to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — would give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, and an edge on issues from abortion to the limits of presidential power.

The big picture: Republicans love the federal appeals court judge's age — she is only 48 — and her record as a steadfast social conservative.

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