Why Jeff Sessions scares tech companies - Axios
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Why Jeff Sessions scares tech companies

Susan Walsh / AP

As the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions has the power to create some major headaches for technology companies.

Sessions has gone after the tech industry for hiring high-skilled foreign workers and resisting law enforcement surveillance requests. Pile on Donald Trump's populist disdain for big companies and suspicion of some dominant tech platforms, and antitrust experts also say Silicon Valley has reason to be worried.

Encryption and privacy:

  • Sessions has been at odds with Silicon Valley over law enforcement's access to encrypted data and pushed back on surveillance reforms.
  • A year ago, Sessions took Apple to task for refusing to help the FBI access encrypted data on an iPhone linked to the San Bernandino attack. The government eventually backed down, but the industry is bracing for increased pressure from law enforcement as surveillance debates heat up.
  • The DOJ will also be involved in crafting policies around cross-border data sharing, an increasingly important issue for American tech companies doing business abroad.

Immigration:

  • Sessions has hammered Silicon Valley companies using H-1B visas to hire foreign workers for engineering jobs.
  • He and Trump share the general view that hiring American workers should be prioritized. The tech industry's long-standing goal of raising the annual visa cap is dead in the water — its goal now is to prevent the program from being gutted.
  • Sessions will be in the position to call for changes to the lottery system that divvies up the visas in ways that could discourage tech companies from using the system at all.

Mergers:

  • Front-runners to lead the DOJ's antitrust division include Joshua Wright (member of Trump's transition team) and Makan Delrahim (deputy White House counsel). They're known in antitrust circles as having traditional Republican pro-business leanings.
  • The real question is whether Trump will try to turn merger reviews into business negotiations. Antitrust experts fear Trump could use the merger review process to extract political promises, like creating jobs. (Mergers, of course, typically end up eliminating jobs.)
  • Take the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger, which has drawn fire from Trump. Since the two companies don't directly compete against each other, the legal case to block the deal is seen as relatively weak. Still, Sessions could take the cue from his boss to intervene.

Competition:

  • The Justice Department can investigate the behavior of dominant companies if they are accused of engaging in anti-competitive practices (recall the case the DOJ brought against Microsoft in 1998). Typically Republican administrations don't go after companies on competition grounds, but as one antitrust attorney put it, "this isn't your typical Republican administration."
  • Trump has indicated he thinks some tech companies have grown too big and powerful. On the campaign trail, he said Amazon has "a huge antitrust problem." He told Axios he'd "like to create more competition," for companies like Facebook with rapidly expanding size and reach.
  • That means dominant tech companies like Apple and Google could also have targets on their backs, experts said.
What to watch: Immigration and visa program reform is top-of-mind for most tech companies, who've been increasingly vocal in speaking out about Trump's immigration order. But it's the antitrust division that keeps them up at night: Big tech firms know Sessions will have to bless any mergers coming down the pike and an activist department could even look at coming after tech companies the administration thinks have gotten too big. "Trump's a deal-maker," said one D.C. antitrust lawyer. "It's generally been frowned upon, but there's nothing illegal about the White House telling antitrust agencies what to do."
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Big business to Trump: Don't gut the State Department

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Ahead of the White House's budget proposal this week, which is rumored to cut 31% from the budgets of State Department and USAID, hundreds of top business leaders have sent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a letter urging him to fight for funding for State, per the WSJ.

A key quote: "With 95 percent of the world's consumers outside the United States and many of the fastest growing economies in the developing world, now is the time to double down on America's global economic leadership."

A taste of the signatories: Top executives from Walmart, Pfizer, Coca-Cola, GE, Nike, UPS, and Marriott.

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House and Trump administration to delay insurer subsidy case

(Atef Safadi / EPA Pool via AP)

The House and the Trump administration will seek an additional 90 days to resolve a pending court case over the legality of Affordable Care Act insurer subsidies, the Washington Examiner and CNBC report.

While the subsidies may continue to flow to plans operating on exchanges, the failure to reach a decision doesn't give insurers the certainty they're looking for. Plans must decide whether to participate in federal exchanges by June 21. If they don't get a guarantee that they'll keep receiving the subsidies, plans will likely drastically raise premiums or pull out of exchanges.

The Examiner reports the House and the White House are working on a plan to ensure the subsidies continue going to insurers, who pass them on to low-income enrollees.

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Supreme Court strikes down North Carolina redistricting

Jon Elswick / AP

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina Republicans placed too many African-Americans in two congressional voting districts it re-mapped after the 2010 Census, according to the Associated Press.

Why it matters: The 5-3 ruling upholds a federal district court decision that argued North Carolina lawmakers packed more African American residents into the districts than was necessary, which was challenged by the state. But even with the new lines, Republicans continue to hold 10 of the state's 13 districts.

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Pittsburgh sours on Uber's driverless car experiment

Gene J. Puskar / AP

Nine months after Uber rolled out its self-driving car trials in Pittsburgh, the relationship is deteriorating, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Self-driving car companies are forming partnerships with cities that will allow them to test their vehicles on their streets. It's a high-risk, high-reward proposition for city leaders.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told The Washington Post this fall, "Is there going to be an accident in a robot car? Yes there is. But the greater goal is to make our streets safer in the long term. We have to start at some point and we can't wait for regulation to catch up with innovation."

The city's complaints: Uber began charging for rides that were expected to be free; it withdrew support from Pittsburgh's application for a major federal grant to overhaul transportation; and it hasn't hired local workers as it promised.

Uber's response: "Uber is proud to have put Pittsburgh on the self-driving map, an effort that included creating hundreds of tech jobs and investing hundreds of millions of dollars," Uber told the Times in a statement. "We hope to continue to have a positive presence in Pittsburgh by supporting the local economy and community."

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Another U.S. chemicals giant strikes global merger

Huntsman Corp. of Texas and Switzerland's Clariant have agreed to an all-stock merger that would create a specialty chemicals giant valued at around $20 billion (including debt). Clariant shareholders would hold around a 52% stake in the combined company, which is expected to generate $13.2 billion in annual sales and $2.3 billion of EBITDA.

Why it's a big deal: This tie-up is part of a trend of cross-border consolidation in the mega-chemicals space, following the pending deal between Praxair (Connecticut) and Linde (Germany) and PPG Industries (Pittsburgh) attempting to purchase Dutch rival Akzo Nobel. It's also notable for private equity buffs (yes, such people exist), as Huntsman was at the center of what arguably was the most contentious M&A failure failure of the financial crisis era.

Fun fact: "Huntsman... is best known for inventing the clam-shell styrofoam box for McDonald's Big Mac burgers." ― Reuters

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Report: Michael Flynn will plead 5th, decline subpoena

Saul Loeb / Pool Photo via AP

The Associated Press is reporting that Michael Flynn, the former general fired from his National Security Advisor role by President Trump for lying about his contacts with Russians, will decline a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

  • The sourcing: "[A] person with direct knowledge of the matter... spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private interactions between Flynn and the committee."
  • Why this was coming: "Legal experts have said Flynn was unlikely to turn over the personal documents without immunity because he would be waiving some of his constitutional protections by doing so. Flynn has previously sought immunity from "unfair prosecution" to cooperate with the committee."

Background on the subpoena, here.

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First-class travel, hotel suites: WHO spending under scrutiny

Raphael Satter / AP

The World Health Organization nearly spent more on travel for its 7,000 staffers in 2016 — $201 million — than its combined programs for AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, tuberculosis, mental health, and substance abuse, which total $213.5 million, per the AP.

  • How it happened: Lax rules surrounding first-class travel and hotel bookings allowed WHO employees to ignore official travel policy. For example, the agency's Ebola head spent nearly $400,000 in West Africa during the crisis, often opting for helicopter travel.
  • Comparisons: Doctors Without Borders spent $43 million on travel for its 37,000 aid workers; UNICEF spent $140 million for its 13,000 staffers.
  • Worth noting: The agency's polio expenditures hit $450 million last year.
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Zuckerberg: I'm not using this trip to run for office

Jeff Chiu / AP

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a Facebook post Sunday:

"Some of you have asked if this challenge means I'm running for public office. I'm not. I'm doing it to get a broader perspective to make sure we're best serving our community of almost 2 billion people at Facebook and doing the best work to promote equal opportunity at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative."

His learned insight: Zuckerberg said he sees an opportunity for Facebook to connect users beyond people they already know, and is hoping to soon introduce a system that recommends "people you should know," like mentors and people outside of your social circle who can provide "a source of support and inspiration."

Read next: Inside Zuck's real political strategy

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Ford replaces CEO Mark Fields with autonomous driving exec

Carlos Osorio / AP

Ford will announce Monday morning that it is replacing CEO Mark Fields with Jim Hackett, who ran Steelcase furniture for 20 years before joining the car company, reports The New York Times. Hackett most recently headed Ford's autonomous vehicle subsidy, known as Ford Smart Mobility.

Under Fields, who served as CEO for three years, Ford shares dropped 40 percent. He also was criticized by investors and the board for failing to make Ford a competitive player in the development of high-tech vehicles for the future.

Between the lines: The shake-up shows that Ford is shifting its focus to accelerate its self-driving technology. As the NYT points out, Ford has lagged behind other large automakers like General Motors and tech companies like Google, both of which have already begun testing their own autonomous vehicles. Ford is promising it will have a fully operating driverless car on the road by 2021.

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Striking AT&T workers head back to bargaining table

CWA

Over the weekend, AT&T stores were closed in a number of cities — from San Francisco to Boston to D.C. — when 40,000 workers walked off the job on Friday after the company failed to reach an agreement with the Communications Workers of America union. (AT&T told Fortune the majority of stores stayed open.)

In Oregon, Sen. Jeff. Merkley joined the picket line with workers. In New York City, Mayor Bill DeBlasio signaled support on Twitter.

Why it matters: It's the first labor strike AT&T has faced since 2012. AT&T is the largest U.S. telecom company, and the only one with a major union presence in its wireless business — the fastest growing part of the company. As a result, AT&T is having to contend with the pressures of competing with nonunion rivals in the increasingly competitive wireless sector, a company spokesman told the NYT.

At issue: CWA says AT&T has cut 12,000 U.S. call center jobs while moving jobs overseas, and has shifted jobs from company-owned retail stories to third-party reseller chains. Workers are also frustrated about rising healthcare costs and changes to commission rates. AT&T, for its part, says it's offering fair wage and pension increases and healthcare benefits. "Our employees are returning to work, and we remain committed to reaching fair agreements in these contracts," a spokesperson said.

What's next: In an email to members Sunday evening, CWA rep Dennis Trainor said the union will be back at the bargaining table Monday: "We stood up not only for ourselves and for our families, but for all working Americans who are sick and tired of being taken advantage of by greedy corporations. This fight is even bigger than AT&T. Let's congratulate ourselves for a job well done and walk into work tomorrow very proud."

Updated to include AT&T statement.