Great Tech CEOs pay a visit to Congress as significant antitrust legislation looms

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Pichai’s trip comes after Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook was spotted roaming the Senate last week. (Apple did not respond to questions on Cook’s visit at the time.) It also follows a report by Politico that Amazon (AMZN) CEO Andy Jassy has directly called multiple members of Congress to express opposition to the bill. In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson told CNN that Jassy “meets with policymakers on both sides of the aisle regarding policy issues that could affect our customers.”

Big Digital is putting out its heavy hitters to sway the members whose votes might decide the bill’s fate as Senate legislators start on a last, frantic drive to approve momentous antitrust legislation to transform the tech sector. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google (GOOG), will come to Washington next week to meet with US legislators, according to two people familiar with the preparations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss the trip publicly.

Highlights

  • The CEOs’ hands-on engagement highlights the stakes of the next few months for the tech industry in Washington. Congress is considering multiple antitrust bills, beginning with legislation led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Chuck Grassley that could erect strict barriers between a tech giant’s various lines of business. The proposal represents a direct challenge to Big Tech’s business models that encourage consumers to use multiple interlocking services owned by the same company. Under the bill, for example, Google could be prevented from ranking its own restaurant reviews or YouTube links above other sites in search results, and Amazon could be prevented from selling its own branded goods on the e-commerce marketplace it currently shares with third-party sellers.

  • Pichai is expected to meet with both Republicans and Democrats, one of the people said, and in addition to antitrust issues, the meetings may also cover a recent bipartisan push to develop digital privacy legislation. Pichai could also face questioning from Republican lawmakers who believe Google discriminates against conservatives, the people said. “We regularly engage with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on a range of issues including economic growth, small business support, immigration reform and cybersecurity,” said Jose Castañeda, a Google spokesperson. “We’ll continue to engage on issues relevant to people and businesses using our products.”

Against that backdrop, the tech industry and its allies have sought to peel support away from the bill with a lobbying effort. In the first quarter of 2022, Apple spent $2.5 million on lobbying, a quarterly record for the company. Over the same period, Google spent $3.5 million, Amazon $5.3 million and Meta $5.4 million. Industry groups have spent millions on ads opposing the antitrust legislation. Heightening the sense of urgency is the fact that Congress is running out of time to act this year. Surging consumer prices, the continuing war in Ukraine and the Jan. 6 hearings have dominated the congressional agenda. Once lawmakers break for August recess, few expect much progress in the fall, when the midterm elections are expected to take precedence. And a potential Republican takeover of Congress could also reshape the legislative landscape for Big Tech.

The tech industry has said the bill would threaten many features and services that consumers have come to depend on and that make their lives easier. Backers of the bill — the American Innovation and Choice Online Act — have pushed for a Senate floor vote within the next few weeks, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is said to be open to bringing the bill to the floor provided it has sufficient support.

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