Who's in and who's out on Trump's tech revival task force
Oracle has two seats at the table; Twitter and Netflix have none.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
President Trump on Tuesday night announced who will participate in his American Economic Revival Industry Groups, a veritable who's who of executives in every major industry in the U.S. who will be called upon to advise the president on how to reopen the economy. Tech got its own group, and it's telling which execs have seats at the table.
"These bipartisan groups of American leaders will work together with the White House to chart the path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity," the White House statement reads.
The list of leaders can reveal some of the administration's thinking about who matters, and who might not. Here are the notable inclusions and omissions.
Apple's Tim Cook: Tim Cook has maintained an unlikely and deeply beneficial friendship with President Trump, even while maintaining a public persona as a progressive tech executive who fights for LGBTQ+ rights and against the Trump administration's immigration policies. Cook, who serves on the Trump administration's Workforce Policy Advisory Board, has leveraged his close relationship with Trump to relax tough China policies in Apple's favor before. "Tim Cook calls Donald Trump directly," Trump once said.
Oracle's Safra Catz and Larry Ellison: Oracle, a close partner to the Trump administration, is the only company to have two representatives in the tech group. (Home Depot also has three representatives on the retail team.) Oracle is also the only big tech company with a leader who publicly supports Trump, and that relationship has paid dividends over the past several years. Catz served on Trump's transition team, and Ellison (who held a fundraiser for Trump in February, to the chagrin of some of his employees) has had the president's ear since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg: Though Trump has railed against the country's top social media platforms for their alleged "bias" against him, his tone has softened on Zuckerberg in recent months — especially after he hosted Zuckerberg and Facebook board member Peter Thiel at a private White House dinner in October. Trump has continually claimed, in speeches and TV hits, that Zuckerberg told him Trump is "number one on Facebook."
Amazon's Jeff Bezos: Despite Trump's well-documented personal vendetta against Bezos, Amazon is a participant in the effort — albeit as a member of the retail group, rather than sitting at the table with the other Big Four executives. Amazon's toughest critics, including Oracle, have always maintained that Amazon "isn't a tech company." "Of course Amazon is not a tech company," Ken Glueck, Oracle's top lobbyist, said in an email to Protocol on Tuesday. "Amazon is more concerned about arbitraging the price of avocados than providing secure and scalable compute capacity." Ugly fights aside, Amazon's placement in the retail group underlines how differently the coronavirus crisis has affected its business, compared with other tech companies. Amazon Web Services has been partnering with the administration on cloud-computing initiatives, but the White House is making it clear that Amazon's most crucial business is selling essential (physical) goods right now.
Sequoia's Doug Leone: Global managing partner Doug Leone is the only venture capitalist included in the financial services group. Leone has been with Sequoia for 32 years and has seen how recessions play out for startups and the tech industry before. He's also a longtime Republican supporter and Trump backer, who had previously donated over $100,000 to Trump's campaign. Unlike fellow venture capitalist Thiel, who served on Trump's transition team, Leone has been much less vocal about his support, and this is the first time he has helped the administration in any official capacity.
Mark Cuban: Billionaire investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban made the list for owning the Dallas Mavericks, but that wasn't the only eyebrow-raising part of his inclusion. On Tuesday night, POLITICO reported that Cuban is eyeing a late-stage presidential run as an independent candidate. Cuban has gone from a Trump supporter to Trump critic over the last few years, but he seems to have mellowed recently (and clearly deleted a lot of his Trump-related tweets in the meantime). When asked what he thought of Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic so far, Cuban told POLITICO that Trump was in an "impossible position." "I'm not a fan, but no one could do it right," he said.
Elliott Management's Paul Singer: Despite Trump's love of the platform, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey once again did not make the team, but the hedge-fund manager and activist investor who led an attempt to remove him from Twitter and force change on the company did. Singer, an outspoken Republican, was anti-Trump going into the 2016 election, but has supported the president in recent years. Last year, Trump praised Singer's investment in AT&T.
U.S. chips: Taken together, execs from the big American chipmakers — IBM, Intel, Qualcomm, Advanced Micro Devices, Broadcom and Micron — are majorly represented in the tech task force. The message seems clear: American chips matter. A lot. In recent years, China has sought to close the gap with its "Made in China 2025" plan, which, along with Huawei, is seen as an imminent threat in Washington. This group of companies also supplies advanced chips for key, high-security government and military technologies.
Special mentions: The Heritage Foundation's Kay Coles James: Last year, Google announced it was launching a new AI ethics board, notching what seemed like a huge win for the army of ethicists and technologists who had been pushing the company to do so. But within a week, Google had disbanded that board amid a swell of protests against one of the AI ethics board members: Kay Coles James, the president of the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation. More than 2,300 Googlers and more than 300 outside supporters signed onto letters protesting James, calling her "vocally anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-immigrant." James is listed as a "thought leader" involved in the White House's effort. (After all, she is a big wig in the conservative movement.)
Peter Thiel: The most notable venture capitalist to be excluded from the list is Peter Thiel, a high-profile supporter who spoke at the Republican National Convention in favor of Trump. A key member of Trump's transition team, Thiel played a role in many early political appointments as well as in shaping the administration's priorities on tech. Not only was Thiel left off, but so was Palantir, the software company he co-founded and which has previously been a part of Trump's tech workshops. While Thiel is not on the list, one of his ideals is well-represented: keeping the global lead on advanced chipmakers in U.S. control. Thiel blasted Google last year for its ties to China.
Michael Dell: The chief executive of the computer maker was one of the last tech execs standing on Trump's business advisory council in 2017 (many of whom are part of this current group), and has been vocal about how important it is to have a seat at Trump's table. Dell last year called Trump's trade war with China "not productive."
AT&T's Randall L. Stephenson: AT&T's chief executive was not included in the list of telecommunications companies on the task force, despite AT&T being the second-largest wireless carrier in the U.S. When asked why AT&T may have been left off, one AT&T executive told Protocol: "We do own CNN, so there's that." Trump has very publicly sparred with that news network.
Entertainment companies: Amid coronavirus, streaming services like Netflix have seen record levels of traffic as people spend more time at home indulging in their favorite shows, but Disney, Viacom, Netflix, WarnerMedia and other major entertainment companies have not been tapped to help aid Trump's effort. Old guard ISPs like Comcast are on the list, though, along with Liberty Media, whose chairman backed Bloomberg and trashed Trump, and Charter Communications, which was in the news in March for not allowing its employees to work remotely when coronavirus was first sending the nation into lockdown.
Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.
Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.
Matt Drange is a former senior reporter at Protocol. Matt previously covered money and power in Silicon Valley for The Information, Forbes magazine, and The Center for Investigative Reporting. He's received numerous journalism awards and in 2019 was named the best young business journalist in the country by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. Reach Matt at email@example.com or via encrypted phone/text at 626-233-1063.
Emily Dreyfuss (@emilydreyfuss) is the former editorial director of Protocol. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, covering the impact of technology on society, and before that she was a senior editor at Wired and the senior programing manager at CNET. As the 2017 Harvard Nieman-Berkman Klein fellow, Emily studied how the internet changes the historical record. Her work has appeared in Pop-Up Magazine, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Week. She lives in San Francisco.