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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amazon has become a recurring symbol of economic inequality for newly emboldened progressive Democrats.

Why it matters: Despite its popularity with consumers, the company already shows up in fundraising appeals, legislative rollouts and Twitter threads — and looms over the 2020 campaign trail.

Driving the news:

  1. In the past year, left-wing stars like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) have hammered Amazon over worker treatment, tax incentives and market power.
  2. Unions and labor groups are organizing the company’s warehouse workers and employees at Whole Foods, which it owns.
  3. Progressive advocacy organizations, including MoveOn.org and New York’s Working Families Party, have raised money or built their contact lists off of complaints about the company, according to ads archived by Facebook.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has acknowledged scrutiny as a fact of life, saying last year that "all large institutions of any kind whether they be government agencies, nonprofits, universities, and certainly including big corporations, deserve to be inspected and scrutinized."

The big picture: Democrats are gravitating toward the argument that big corporations have benefited from their innovations while working people have paid a high price.

  • “The story of Jeff Bezos represents both the promise and the challenge of the digital revolution,” said Khanna.

Beyond Sanders, Amazon’s critics include many Democrats planning or contemplating 2020 presidential runs.

  • “As one of the most profitable companies in the world, Amazon should be subject to oversight that protects the dignity of workers and ensures fair competition,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) in a statement. An Amazon spokesperson noted that while the firm had recently turned solid profits, it was unprofitable for a long time. Amazon does not rank among the most profitable companies on the most recent Fortune 500.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has said Amazon should be prohibited from providing a marketplace for third-party manufacturers while simultaneously competing with them by offering private-label products.

Yes, but: Amazon polls very well. Democrats recently told Georgetown University researchers that they had more confidence in the company than any other institution, including universities, the military, Google and the FBI.

Flashback: For years, Democrats married their economic message with attacks on Walmart.

Walmart responded aggressively, and so has Amazon. The company has already successfully neutralized one line of attack from progressive lawmakers.

  • In early September, Sanders and Khanna backed the Stop BEZOS Act, which would tax companies for the public benefits their workers accessed.
  • Less than a month later, the company announced it would increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour and advocate for a higher nationwide standard.
  • “I’ve been very critical of them, but when these companies do take constructive steps, we have to give them credit or there’s no incentive for them to do those things,” said Khanna.

The other side: Democrats said they appreciated Amazon’s innovations even as they worried that the wealth the firm has created wasn’t being distributed fairly.

  • “We’re not trying to destroy them,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) of the tech giants, “but we are trying to make sure that their economic power does not diminish either the economic power of individuals or other companies."

The bottom line: The progressive left is ascendant, thanks in part to an argument that big companies have delivered big wins to a small fraction of society.

  • "Those kinds of schisms, people often want to avoid them, but sometimes something comes along and forces everyone to pick a team,” said “Winners Take All” author Anand Giridharadas, “and Amazon is that.”

Go deeper

Prosecutor: Fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. was "justified"

Khalil Ferebee (C), the son of Andrew Brown Jr., and attorneys Bakari Sellers (L) and Harry Daniel (R) at a May 11 news conference in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

A North Carolina prosecutor said Tuesday that the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man fatally shot by sheriff's deputies last month, was "tragic" but "justified," due to the immediate threat officers believed Brown posed.

Why it matters: The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into Brown's death. Police in Elizabeth City shot him five times, including in the back of his head, according to an independent autopsy report released by family attorneys last month.

McCarthy comes out against bipartisan deal on Jan. 6 commission

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will oppose a bipartisan deal announced last week that would form a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, his office announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: McCarthy's opposition to the deal, which was negotiated by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, underscores the internal divisions that continue to plague the GOP in the wake of Jan. 6.

1 hour ago - World

Beijing's antitrust push poses a problem for Western regulators

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Chinese government's anti-monopoly machinery presents a major challenge to U.S. and European regulators, a new book argues.

Why it matters: China's huge markets are attracting investment from multinational corporations and shaping the behavior of its own globe-trotting companies — giving international heft to the country's idiosyncratic antitrust enforcement and putting it on a collision course with Western-style regulation.

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