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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As Amazon narrows the finalists to host its much-sought second headquarters and its tens of thousands of new, high-paying jobs, a little-remarked-upon factor may be playing a large role in its thinking — the company's vulnerability to antitrust action by an activist White House.

In a new development, Amazon has decided to split HQ2 between two cities, scoops the WSJ's Laura Stevens. Whether there are one or two new headquarters, the antitrust threat could favor the D.C. area, since a big local jobs creator may be less likely to be charged by the Justice Department. The same thinking could lead CEO Jeff Bezos to rule out the only finalist on foreign soil — Toronto.

Driving the news: In an interview with Axios that aired on HBO last night, President Trump said his administration is "very seriously" considering antitrust action against Amazon, along with Google and Facebook.

  • Amazon declined to comment. But Bezos has publicly welcomed scrutiny, saying that "all big institutions of any kind ... should be inspected."

Why it matters: Amazon has faced intensifying critical attention — expanding into industry upon industry, accounting for half the money spent on U.S. online shopping, and at one point this year having a $1 trillion market cap.

  • Trump has accused the company of profiting on the back of cheap U.S. Postal Service rates.
  • He has singled out the Washington Post for special derision, routinely calling it the "Amazon Washington Post." Bezos personally owns the paper.

Timing: This war of words has come as Amazon conducts its high-profile search for the site of what it calls its "second headquarters," in addition to Seattle. In January, it disclosed 20 finalists, culled from a list of 238 cities that applied to host HQ2.

In recent days, a series of scoops has roiled the search:

  • In a story on Saturday, the Post reported that Amazon is in advanced talks with Crystal City, a northern Virginia neighborhood 4 miles from the White House.
  • The WSJ followed with its own scoop today, reporting that Amazonis in advanced talks with Crystal City, but also New York City and Dallas.
  • Then, this afternoon, came the added WSJ report that Amazon had decided to build two new headquarters.
  • The New York Times later reported that the company is nearing a deal to put the other half of HQ2 in Long Island City in Queens, New York.

In terms of why D.C., a number of analysts tell Axios that it's — not surprisingly — about politics.

  • "I assume moving to D.C. is partly based on Amazon’s need to lobby the government. It’s much easier to lobby when you have an office near D.C.," says Keith Hylton, a professor of antitrust law at Boston University.
  • Scott Galloway, an Amazon critic and professor at New York University, said a D.C.-area headquarters would be "a prophylactic against regulation. ... No one's going to regulate the local boy."

For the same reason, Bezos may decide to avoid Trump's ire by striking Toronto off the list. Trump has conducted a long Twitter war against companies that, in his view, send American jobs overseas.

Citi's Mark May is even arguing that Amazon break itself up preemptively: "By separating the retail and [Amazon Cloud] businesses, Amazon could minimize or avoid the risk of increased regulatory pressure," he wrote in a note to clients today.

The bottom line: Even if setting up shop close to D.C. and keeping jobs in the U.S. don't end the antitrust debate, they will undoubtedly present advantages, experts say.

  • "At a minimum, [a DC headquarters provides] a window and a mindset for potential regulatory or law enforcement action relevant to its future," Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University and author of the forthcoming "The Curse of Bigness," tells Axios.
  • "A corporate mailing address in the D.C. area isn't going to save Amazon from any blatant violation of antitrust. But proximity to elected officials could buy it more time or maybe even help alter the rhetoric around any controversial business tactics," says Cooper Smith, an analyst at Gartner.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the New York Times report on Amazon choosing Queens as a second location for HQ2.

Go deeper

White House: Over 500,000 new shots recorded Friday, highest since July 1

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The United States recorded more than half a million new COVID-19 vaccine shots on Friday, the highest number since July 1, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Why it matters: The Delta variant is continuing to spread across the United States and it now comprises over 80% of the coronavirus cases in the country, Jean-Pierre said. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that "vaccination is the most important strategy to prevent severe illness and death."

Biden to announce sanctions, other efforts to address crisis in Cuba amid protests

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden will announce sanctions against one entity and two Cuban individuals this afternoon and provide details on his administration's efforts to improve internet connectivity in Cuba, a senior administration official said Friday.

Why it matters: After initially hoping to place the issue on the back burner, the White House has recently ramped up its focus on Cuba amid protests on the island and in the United States, congressional backlash and political pressure from the South Florida Cuban community.

  • The president is also expected to make announcements on remittances and plans for U.S. embassy augmentation, the official said.
  • The official noted that the administration is in talks with private sector providers about the possibility of providing wireless LTE communications to the Cuban people.
  • "Given the protest of July 11, it is important for U.S. diplomats to engage directly with the Cuban people and if we can do that in a way that ensures the safety of U.S. personnel, that is something that we will undertake," he said, noting that the president would announce more details later this afternoon.

The details: The president will meet today with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Cuban-American, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), among other political and community leaders and artists.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), an outspoken voice on Cuban issues, is not expected to attend the meeting.
  • The meeting follows a series of engagements by Cedric Richmond and the Office of Public Engagement with the Cuban-American community, the official said.

What they're saying: "We're gonna do everything we can to keep Cuba on the front burner, so we can keep the conversation on the rights of the Cuban people and their rights to manifest peacefully," the official said on the call with reporters.

Be smart: Cuba is a tricky political issue for Democrats, who are split on the matter. The president was defeated by Donald Trump in South Florida during the 2020 election, and Democrats fear similar results, particularly in the upcoming midterms, if they mishandle the situation.

Go deeper: The newly announced sanctions today will follow already imposed sanctions against Cuban officials and entities allegedly responsible for human rights abuses during the government's crackdown on island-wide protests earlier this month.

1 hour ago - Health

DeSantis to bar Florida schools from mandating masks

Photo: Michael Reaves via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Friday he will issue an executive order "very soon" barring local school districts from requiring students to wear masks when they return to school next month, NBC News reports.

Why it matters: The spread of the Delta variant has led to a spike in new infections across the U.S., triggering another round of debate about COVID guidelines in schools.