Rep. Tim Ryan’s plan for TikTok domination

He’s not like a regular congressman — he’s a cool congressman

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, is one of the first members of Congress to give TikTok a try, and he’s fine with that.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, is one of the first members of Congress to give TikTok a try, and he’s fine with that. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted May 22, 2020 at 6:00am

“Bella, do you think I’m cool now?” Rep. Tim Ryan asked his daughter.

The lawmaker was on the phone with Heard on the Hill discussing his fresh new TikTok account when the 16-year-old walked in.

“My daughter has been doing these,” he explained. “I kinda knew about it, but not a whole lot.”

With approval from his teenage daughter and a little (read: a lot of) help from his press team, the Ohio Democrat, who says he isn’t a “big karaoke guy,” made his lip-syncing debut this month.

His song of choice? “Bored in the House,” the catchy track from Tyga and Curtis Roach that’s become the unofficial anthem of the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to lines like “Locked down, I’m gonna stay stayin’ in in / Ramen noodles every night for my din din.”

Ryan didn’t get that far into the verse, but he did make the most of the chorus. “Bored in the house,” he mouthed, slumping over his desk and avoiding the song’s many F-bombs. Then he reclined on a couch, face-planted into a wall and kicked back in a chair, all while lip-syncing.

“Get it?” his raised eyebrows and tiny smile seemed to say, as he played up the double meaning. Since the setting was clearly his office on Capitol Hill, he wasn’t just “bored in the house,” like many Americans stuck at home these days. He was bored in the House of Representatives.

Talking points flashed across the screen, slamming Republicans in the Senate for refusing to consider the latest coronavirus relief package that he and other Democrats pushed through the other chamber.

“When you pass the HEROES Act to get people help ASAP … but it gathers dust on Mitch McConnell’s desk bc tHErE’s No UrgENcY,” went the message, starting off like any boring old press release but ending somewhere else.

Loading the player...

“It’s so different from normal, boring congressman stuff,” Ryan told me, admitting that he may have lip-synced once or twice before in his car. “It’s a different audience.”

TikTok has surged in global popularity recently, earning hundreds of millions of downloads in 2020 alone as Gen Zers and millennials unleash repetitive viral dance moves on the world. But the social media platform has a shaky reputation in Washington, with some lawmakers voicing concerns about security and privacy since parent company ByteDance is based in China.

Ryan’s approach is more relaxed. “Everything’s a concern with China. [It] doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun,” he said. “It’s not like I’m doing some high-level counterintelligence through TikTok.”

Only a few politicians have tried out the platform so far, and Ryan is fine with that. “No,” he joked when asked if more members of Congress should get on TikTok, saying he wants to corner the market first. 

One of his staffers uses her phone to run the account, which as of Thursday afternoon had not yet earned the coveted blue check mark reserved for “verified” celebrities and brands. After five days on the platform, his stats looked like this: 560 followers, two videos and one profile picture of him holding up a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. To get the word out, his staffers have been cross-posting to his other social accounts. “Follow me on tiktok,” urges his Twitter bio.

Now that Ryan is getting the hang of this, everything is starting to look like a TikTok video, with ideas popping into his head at random times of the day. So what lip-synced opus can we expect from him next? Stay tuned. In the meantime, he’s taking requests.