With help from Steven Overly, Emily Birnbaum, John Hendel and Leah Nylen
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— Did I stutter? Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is upset that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has not responded to her questions on the Biden administration’s defense of U.S. tech companies in Europe.
— Cruzing to the top: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is likely to be the next top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee — a prospect that could further undermine bipartisanship in the key legislative body.
— Section 230 split: Congress’s 2018 change to Section 230 is still haunting lawmakers as they seek to further weaken the tech industry’s treasured liability shield.
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WARREN AMPS UP PRESSURE ON RAIMONDO OVER EU ANTITRUST: Tensions are rising between Warren and Raimondo over the Biden administration’s stance on a burgeoning European Union law meant to stunt the market power of tech conglomerates like Google, Facebook and Amazon.
First in MT: In a letter being sent this morning, the senator chastises Raimondo for not responding to questions she sent in December demanding answers on the Commerce secretary’s effort to water down the Digital Markets Act. That’s an EU proposal that would impose new competition rules on large tech companies and slap fines on those that don’t comply. Raimondo has urged European regulators to soften the proposal, claiming the current iteration unfairly targets U.S. tech companies.
— Left waiting: Warren and other progressives say Raimondo’s approach runs contrary to the broader Biden administration’s antitrust agenda. And the senator is upset she’s been waiting more than two months without an explanation from Raimondo, even as reports circulate that some of Raimondo’s top aides are continuing to lobby EU officials.
“Congress and the public deserve answers about your activities defending Big Tech companies, and the extent to which these activities are hurting American consumers and the economy,” Warren writes in the letter.
What Commerce says: The Commerce Department previously said it would answer Warren’s original letter, though the agency did not respond to a request for comment from Steven on the status of that response. Department spokesperson Robyn Patterson told The Washington Post in December that Raimondo supports the goals of the DMA as well as the Biden administration’s competition policies.
— Not exactly new: Though it may seem incongruous, the U.S. government has a track record of defending American companies from regulators abroad while policymakers at home target those same companies. For example, the Trump administration criticized some antitrust fines the EU imposed on American social media companies — even as former President Donald Trump and others in the administration complained those same companies had too much control over online speech.
CRUZ NEXT IN LINE TO HEAD SENATE COMMERCE: Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is very likely on his way out as the current ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee. And all signs point to Cruz replacing him as ranking member — or chair, depending on how November’s election shapes up — by this time next year.
The Texas senator has a reputation as a political firebrand unconcerned with diplomatic niceties. And some people are already worried his ascendance could further complicate the committee’s work.
— Cruz ready and willing: On Thursday Cruz told Emily he’d “of course” be happy to serve as the top Republican on Commerce, explaining that to do otherwise would be to disregard a longstanding GOP tradition of basing committee chairs on seniority.
Wicker also gave Cruz his blessing. “We almost always follow seniority,” he told MT. Though Wicker noted his colleagues would have to vote on the change, he said the “speculation” is Cruz will take over from him after he decamps for Senate Armed Services.
— Contentious Congress: Though not necessarily a moderate Republican, Wicker has been known to reach across the aisle and work with his Democratic colleagues. Cruz tends to do so less frequently — and his relationship with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who is expected to remain the top Democrat on Commerce, could be a difficult one.
During a second confirmation hearing on Feb. 9 for Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s pick to complete the Democratic majority at the Federal Communications Commission, Cantwell interrupted Cruz as he asked Sohn pointed questions regarding her relationship with Locast, a nonprofit streaming app that shut down after a federal court found it improperly claimed an exemption under federal copyright laws.
“You keep putting misinformation out there,” Cantwell told Cruz, following a testy back-and-forth where the Republican had protested the interruption and asked that Sohn be allowed to finish answering.
— Olive branch? Although Cruz once again attacked Sohn over Locast during her Thursday confirmation vote and claimed she’d work to “censor” speech, this time Cantwell was more conciliatory.
“I have a feeling that you and I are going to spend a lot of time on this definition of freedom of speech,” Cantwell told Cruz. “And I welcome it, because I know that you are sincere.”
Cantwell added that she hopes to pass privacy legislation, and said she looked forward to working with Cruz on that issue.
— White House reachout: Wicker, of course, hasn’t stepped down yet. And on Thursday he told MT he will be “talking to the White House” about how to “enlist the administration’s assistance” and pass comprehensive data privacy legislation this cycle (an ambitious goal, given the short timeframe lawmakers have to pass much of anything).
DEMOCRATIC INFIGHTING ON SECTION 230 REFORM SPREADS: Democrats reintroduced in both chambers a bill to examine the impact the first-ever law revamping Section 230 has had on marginalized sex workers, suggesting new efforts to reform the tech industry’s liability shield may face sustained headwinds from progressives.
The reintroduced bill comes less than a month after senators advanced the EARN IT Act (S. 3538) out of the Senate Judiciary Committee via a voice vote — and implies that despite its apparent popularity, EARN IT will continue to face pushback from progressive Democrats in both chambers.
— Practicing SAFE SEX: On Thursday, Warren and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) joined California Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee in reintroducing the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, legislation they first introduced last Congress. The bill tasks the Department of Health and Human Services with studying what sex workers say have been the unintended consequences of SESTA/FOSTA (H.R. 1865). That bill, passed in 2018, removed liability protections for platforms that knowingly host content that facilitates sex trafficking.
Khanna, who represents a Silicon Valley district, said in a statement he’s heard from sex workers who’ve experienced “increased physical and sexual violence after being pushed off online platforms and forced onto the streets to find clients.”
A report released last June from the Government Accountability Office found SESTA/FOSTA has not yet actually been used by federal prosecutors to seek restitution for victims of sex trafficking. Khanna told MT Thursday he hopes that report will help him “drum up broader support in both the House and the Senate for this bill.”
—Senator throws EARN IT shade: Wyden told MT Thursday that EARN IT “very much resembles SESTA/FOSTA, which was ballyhooed and trumpeted as this huge thing” but which hasn’t been used for its intended purpose — though it has had negative effects on “people without power and clout.”
—Why not both? Evan Greer, the director of progressive tech group Fight for the Future and a fierce opponent of EARN IT, said senators who back EARN IT can still support the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act.
“Unless they just don’t care about the impact on marginalized communities — which is unacceptable — they should be trying to gather as much data as they can about what happened the last time they changed [Section 230],” Greer said.
A spokesperson for Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the primary Democratic sponsor of EARN IT, did not respond when asked whether the senator would also consider supporting the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act.
Adam Jorde is the new government affairs and communications lead at Twilio. He was previously director of government affairs at NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.
War chest: Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, coordinated through Ukraine’s largest exchange, Kuna, are helping Ukraine fund its government and relief efforts, according to the Wall Street Journal.
No take-backsies: The Wall Street Journal reports Amazon has tried to force the Federal Trade Commission into deciding later this month whether to challenge its acquisition of movie studio MGM (though the FTC can always just challenge the merger later).
Workaround: Kremlin propaganda channel RT says it will start broadcasting on alternative video site Rumble to get around bans from YouTube and other social media platforms, the New York Times reports.
Scramble for chips: Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) led the full New York delegation in a letter to Raimondo that calls the state “uniquely positioned” to host new microchip research and manufacturing programs.
Thanks, but no thanks: A coalition of privacy groups, including Consumer Reports and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is rejecting a new privacy bill in Utahclaiming it won’t do enough to protect consumers’ data.
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