As Election Day nears, some Republicans are beginning to worry that a Biden-Harris administration would disrupt the rare bipartisanship cooperation that has emerged on Capitol Hill around regulating Big Tech.
Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) and Congressman Ken Buck (R., Colo.), who have taken on leading roles in challenging Silicon Valley’s influence in Washington, said in recent interviews that they were happy with the progress they have seen on the issue of late but remain concerned that the momentum, especially among Democrats, could evaporate come November if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected.
“The Democrats talk a lot about this and in Congress, and I’m not discounting that — I appreciate that they are concerned about concentration — but when the Democrats were last in power in the White House, it was a Big-Tech love fest, morning, noon, and night,” Hawley told National Review.
“There are a lot of Democrats who are very ideologically opposed to monopolies of this nature,” Buck added. “But the one thing I respect about the Democrats is they always fall in line. You don’t see a lot of dissension, so when the decision is made by the administration, Speaker Pelosi and others will follow suit.”
Both men have participated in two hearings with their respective antitrust subcommittees in just as many months that showcased points of bipartisan unity around the threat posed by the size and scope of the nation’s tech giants.
“Lawmakers from both parties sharply criticized Google over its dominance in advertising,” read the lede from the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the Senate hearing that occurred this week. “They came for blood,” the Washington Post noted of the House’s July antitrust hearing with the four biggest tech CEOs.
And while Democrats such as David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Hank Johnson of Georgia have been fundraising off their hawkish displays, none of the eight House Democrats on the antitrust subcommittee returned multiple requests for comment on whether a Biden-Harris administration would support their efforts.
Since Biden selected Harris as his running mate in August, articles such as “Silicon Valley Sees Kamala Harris as One of Its Own” (the Journal), “How Kamala Harris Forged Close Ties With Big Tech” (the New York Times), and “Kamala Harris is the choice Joe Biden needed to win over Silicon Valley” (Vox) have detailed the California senator’s deep ties to the industry.
Harris’s second-largest donor over the past five years is Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, and a number of her former staffers have gone on to work at Amazon, Google, and Twitter. The Silicon Valley ties also extend to the former San Francisco district attorney’s family: Her brother-in-law is chief legal counsel at Uber.
While both Biden and Harris have paid lip service to big-tech regulation — even questioning the merits of the Section 230 protections the tech giants enjoy — their platform does not directly address the issue.
“I just think that for them right now it’s an occasional talking point while they hold their hand out to get as much cash as they can from Big Tech with a sort of, you know, nod-wink, tech knowing that the good days will be here again if Biden and Harris got elected,” Hawley said.
Since significant legislation is still a ways off, Hawley and Buck have placed their faith in anti-trust litigation brought recently by the DOJ and the FTC against Google and Facebook, respectively. The congressmen believe the litigation serves as proof that the current administration is committed to breaking up platforms such as Google, which combines a massive search operation with a dominant advertising service. But if Democrats regain the White House, they fear those probes will go nowhere.
“They can easily drag their feet investigating this for four or eight years if they decided they didn’t want to intervene and make the marketplace more competitive,” Buck explained.
The duo have also pointed to the revolving door between Democratic politics and big tech firms as evidence that platforms such as Twitter — whose director of public policy Carlos Monje recently decamped for the Biden campaign — systematically disadvantage conservatives.
“Under a Biden-Harris administration, I think censorship now becomes the order of the day,” Hawley continued. “Tech, they want to do it already, because it aligns with their political views. Tech is the capital of woke. . . . Google, for heaven’s sake, published a document internally last year called ‘The Good Censor,’ but this is how they see themselves. And I think they’ll become more brazen if Joe Biden wins.”
But a question remains for Republicans about whether bias and antitrust can be addressed using the same policy levers.
“If we’re going to have a conversation about conservative bias, let’s have that conversation,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of the lobbying firm NetChoice — which counts Google, Facebook, and Twitter among its backers — told National Review. “It is not an antitrust conversation. So if their competitors have conservative bias, then let’s talk about ways that we can address it. And at the same time, as a conservative, I believe we need to address it in a way that doesn’t call upon government as the solution.”
Though many of their Republican colleagues highlight bias, rather than the monopolistic practices targeted through anti-trust legislation, as their primary concern when it comes to Big Tech — House minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s 2020 blueprint mentions bias but not scale — Buck and Hawley think the two issues are inextricably linked.
Buck pointed to Google’s Internet search dominance — it took up 92 percent of August’s global market share — to argue that its size alone makes its alleged bias against conservatives near impossible to combat because there are no meaningful alternatives.
A 2019 data study by the Economist found “no evidence of ideological bias in the search engine’s news tab,” but conservatives have criticized the platform for attaching “fact-checks” from left-leaning outlets such as Snopes to conservative opinion pieces while leaving similar left-leaning articles untouched. Skeptics have also pointed to the firing of engineer James Damore, who wrote a memo citing inherent preference differences between genders as a partial explanation for male overrepresentation in tech, as evidence of the company’s bias. And according to a recent report from RealClear Politics, Google search data for conservative websites like Breitbart and the Daily Caller shows a steep fall in visibility.
“We can’t go to a search engine that would be more fair to conservative viewpoints and so the dominance and the bias are related,” Buck stated. “And if we deal with the dominance, ultimately, the impact of the bias will be lessened.”
If President Trump is reelected in November, both men feel there is further progress to be made — Hawley told National Review that in his “frequent” conversations with Trump, Big Tech overreach “is very much on his mind.”
“There’s hardly a conversation I have with the president in which he does not raise these issues,” he revealed.