The tech industry is largely shrugging off the prospect that President Trump will strongarm Congress into repealing Section 230 in the National Defense Authorization Act, even as Trump intensifies his threat to veto the legislation unless it repeals the foundational law of the internet.
On Tuesday, the White House officially notified lawmakers that Trump intends to veto the NDAA because it "fails to make any meaningful changes" to Section 230 as written.
"Section 230 facilitates the spread of disinformation online and is a serious threat to our national security and election integrity," said the message from the Office of Management and Budget. "It should be repealed."
Key lawmakers on both sides of the aisle remain bullish on the NDAA, insisting it will become law even if Congress has to override a veto from Trump. The House approved the NDAA 335-78 on Tuesday night, though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he wouldn't vote to override Trump's veto and it's yet to be seen what will happen in the Senate.
Tech trade groups have been holding meetings with members of Congress and Hill aides over the past week to educate them about Section 230, particularly focusing on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, which oversee the NDAA but do not have jurisdiction over Section 230. And lobbyists for the companies have kept their finger on the pulse of the debate.
But sources in the tech industry told Protocol they're mostly taking a hands-off approach as they remain optimistic that the NDAA will not include a provision to repeal Section 230 and Congress can muster up the votes to override any Trump veto.
"The fact that there are some concerns being raised in the House is disheartening, but it's not necessarily a death knell," said Carl Szabo, the vice president of tech trade group NetChoice, which represents companies including Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok. "NDAA is going to pass."
One tech industry source said trade groups and companies have been expressing concern on Capitol Hill about the eleventh-hour effort, but they remain confident about their prospects.
At the end of the day, tech industry representatives are mostly outsiders looking in as members fight and negotiate amongst themselves over pushing through the must-pass defense bill, which includes hundreds of billions of dollars in appropriations and follows months of bipartisan, bicameral talks. Two congressional aides said the companies were clearly tracking the action in Congress but have not flooded the zone with lobbying efforts, as Republicans and Democrats made clear there's no appetite to push Section 230 reform through the NDAA. Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe told Trump that the bill could not move if it included Section 230-related provisions, prompting the president to call him out by name on Twitter.
Steve Haro, a principal with lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas, said most members of Congress already know where the tech industry stands on Section 230 after years of outreach. (Haro's firm represents companies including ByteDance, Indeed and the Information Technology Industry Council.)
"Companies, executives and advocates are resources for them," Haro said. "We have been providing information as needed. But because of the nature of how this has come up, it has not led to … a full-court press. Because it's not a serious effort."
He added: "Even if folks [on the Armed Services Committee] weren't aware of 230 before, they're saying, 'Well, this is not germane to this bill. This is not something we should be taking up in the NDAA.'"
It's possible that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could refuse to bring the legislation to the floor, but he is facing a delicate set of dynamics, as he's working hard to ensure Republicans win a pair of runoff elections in Georgia, a state where support for the military runs deep. And there's still room for Trump to back off the veto threat.
"I still find it hard to believe that this president would take hostage support for our troops because he's dissatisfied with social media moderation," said Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which counts Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as members. "But even if he does, I don't see Congress standing by and letting pay raises for servicemen and [service]women be an innocent bystander in political sniping."
However, while Schruers said it's possible to shrug off this latest threat as mere posturing, he believes it's illustrative of a broader misunderstanding of Section 230 in Congress, where there's bipartisan interest in reforming the law during the next session.
Update: This article was updated at 7:11 p.m. ET to reflect the House vote.