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Photo illustration Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The CEOs of the tech industry's largest brands have been grappling with how to respond to President Trump's policies that are highly unpopular in Silicon Valley. Their employees and customers have ratcheted up the pressure to take a stand against the new president—and it seems to be working.

Here's why technology companies are at the vanguard of the Trump opposition:

  • Opinionated Customers: The most obvious example of this was the #DeleteUber campaign and other blowback that eventually caused Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to resign from Trump's CEO council.
  • The super-competitive job market: "Not only do tech users have ability to vote with dollars, but engineers have the ability to go and work for someone else," said Brad Taylor, one of the organizers behind the "Tech Stands Up" rally being planned for next month. That makes tech firms very sensitive to political demands from workers.
  • Peer Pressure: Tech industry insiders say it's not just pressure from idealistic employees that's turning the tide—it's the larger Silicon Valley "bubble," including fellow companies. For example, Elon Musk's SpaceX and Tesla were late signing on to the legal brief, after Musk repeatedly defended his participation in Trump's advisory group. "There's a certain expectation that we all need to move as a pack," said one employee of a flagship brand.
  • Strength in numbers: As more companies began to speak out, executives felt like they could follow suit without being singled out in potential Trump tweet or other presidential backlash.
  • Growing up: A lot of individuals, including CEOs, represent relatively young companies who are still figuring out what they should or shouldn't do, said Tech:NYC Executive Director Julie Samuels. "On one hand, they're horrified by what they see happening, but on the other hand they know they have obligations to shareholders. All the sudden, the travel ban provided an opportunity to criticize a specific policy point without criticizing the broader administration."
  • Familiar Territory: In responding to the travel order, a lot of CEOs focused on the importance of the foreign workers and H-1B visas in filling crucial technical jobs—an argument they've been making for years. Taking a stance on that issue was less risky than others.
  • Silicon Valley values: One reason tech companies are taking a stance is because they're pretty much the only industry being called upon by everyday consumers to do so. That reflects the nation's expectation that Silicon Valley will lead the charge promoting certain progressive ideals.

How it's played out: Even before Trump's December roundtable, tech CEOs were well-aware of the fine line they had to walk. In many cases, employees' personal beliefs did not align with how company's treated the new Trump Administration. Yet, as leaders of multi-national corporations, CEOs also knew a negative knee-jerk reaction would carry risks in coming policy debates — such as visas, trade and corporate tax reform — that directly impact their bottom lines. It became a "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" kind of situation, said one D.C.-based advisor working with tech companies.

What started out as many companies taking a conciliatory, wait-and-see approach to the administration shifted gears after Trump's immigration and travel ban struck a nerve in Silicon Valley. CEO responses initially took a mild tone (see Mark Zuckerberg's measured Facebook post). The response grew more vocal over the past week, largely in response to blowback from employees, users and the tech press who grew increasingly frustrated with milquetoast responses.

Late Sunday, dozens of tech companies filed an amicus brief condemning the ban, capping a week of rising criticism that included a protest at Google headquarters, joint letters from companies, Uber's Kalanick quitting Trump's CEO council, and dozens of strongly worded statements. More than 1,200 tech employees are also gearing up for rallies in Silicon Valley and other tech-hub cities like Austin and Denver.

Why we're paying attention: The combination of customers, employees, executives and issues could make the tech community a strong counterpoint to the Trump administration. While it will continue to pick its battles, the tech industry is sending a message that it won't be ignored.

Go deeper

43 mins ago - World

Sudan's military places civilian prime minister under house arrest

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok during a 2020 news conference in Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Sudan's civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was put under house arrest and several other ministers were also detained Monday in what appears to be a military coup in the country, per local reports.

Why it matters: The arrests of the civilian faction in the Sudanese government came a day after U.S. envoy Jeffrey Feltman met with the head of the military faction of the Sudanese government General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and warned him against staging a coup.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Saudi dissident claims MBS said he could get "poison ring" to kill king

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending the Saudi Green Initiative Forum, via video link, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A former senior Saudi intelligence official who worked with the U.S. on counterterrorism alleged to "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed in 2014 killing the kingdom's then-monarch.

Why it matters: The claim by the exiled Saad al-Jabri, whom Saudi authorities describe as "a discredited former government official," that the crown prince, known as "MBS," allegedly said he could obtain a "ring from Russia" to carry out the attack, is one of several serious but unproven allegations he made on the CBS show.

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