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Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) offered the following statement after voting against a bill that would impose a federal minimum wage hike:

“This one-size-fits-all government mandate would be devastating for many low-wage workers, small businesses, and consumers. It fails to consider the vast differences in cost of living between Berkeley, California and Dodge County, Wisconsin. According to CBO estimates, this legislation could cause the loss of as many as 3.7 millions jobs, and reduce family incomes by $9 billion. Republicans have fought to make the economy strong and the job market great for workers. In fact, we’re in our 15th consecutive month where there are more job openings than job seekers, and real wage growth is increasing. Rather, Democrats are pushing this misguided policy, which would undo all of these successes.”

You can read the CBO report on effects of a $15 minimum wage here.

By: Marie C. Baca and Cat Zakrzewski of the Washington Post

House lawmakers grilled executives from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google in a hearing Tuesday as part of their wide-ranging investigation into big tech companies and the threats they may pose to competition.

The hearing, held by the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee that deals with antitrust, allowed for a bipartisan showing by lawmakers as they quizzed executives on the size and scope of their businesses and put on public display the increasing frustration in the nation’s capital with Silicon Valley.

The internet has become “increasingly concentrated, less open, and growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship,” adding to a perceived “kill zone” related to the tech giants that prevents new companies from competing, said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law.

Tech executives rebutted those ideas in their written testimony and in answers to lawmakers’ inquiries, arguing that their organizations face robust competition from a variety of entities and that their products and platforms allow other businesses to be successful.

The antitrust hearing comes more than a month after federal regulators divided up oversight of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple in a move that suggests possible formal probes in the future. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Witnesses included Adam Cohen, director of economic policy at Google; Matt Perault, head of global policy development at Facebook; Nate Sutton, associate general counsel of competition at Amazon and Kyle Andeer, vice president of corporate law at Apple.

House lawmakers said they were launching an antitrust investigation focusing on Silicon Valley in June, a rare bipartisan effort targeting the "dominant, unregulated platforms have extraordinary power over commerce, communication and information online.” The effort aims to review the government’s own tools and agencies — as well as the tech giants — in an effort to determine whether the industry has entered monopoly territory.

The House investigation adds to widening woes for Silicon Valley, as both Democrats and Republicans seem to find agreement in their problems with big tech. President Trump has been a frequent critic, last week suggesting the U.S. government “should be suing Google and Facebook,” potentially on antitrust grounds. A number of candidates for the Democratic nomination for president have echoed concerns about the power the industry wields. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for example, has called repeatedly for breaking up major tech companies and pledged she would apply a tougher hand to the industry if she’s elected president.

At Tuesday’s hearing, that bipartisan agreement was apparent. Lawmakers asked about a range of topics from digital piracy to the disappearance of Facebook competitor MySpace to Amazon’s competition with sellers that do business on its website -- all with the aim of uncovering how the big tech companies have become so dominant.

Cicilline in his opening remarks criticized federal agencies for not scrutinizing the tech sector's power enough, warning the absence of regulatory action has created “defacto immunity” for online platforms. He slammed the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice for not bringing forward antitrust complaints in the technology sector since the landmark Microsoft case nearly two decades ago, and he criticized federal enforcers for not more closely scrutinizing hundreds of the acquisitions that the tech giants have made in recent years.

“This trend is not the inevitable consequence of technological progress,” Cicilline said. “It is the result of policy choices we are making as a country.”

Setting the tone for the hearing, Cicilline also read aloud from testimony submitted by one of the tech giants’ top critics, Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor who has said Facebook should be broken up. Wu warned lawmakers that the current concentration of power in the tech industry poses a risk to U.S. innovation.

“We are becoming a country of giant concerns, admirable in their way, but where incremental improvement is the norm, where bureaucracy rules, and stagnation may be inevitable,” Wu wrote in testimony submitted to the committee. “We will become a country where inventors and entrepreneurs dream of being bought, not of building something of their own.”

Legislators targeted Facebook and Amazon with the most questions, while Google and Apple faced fewer inquiries. Lawmakers asked targeted questions, including how often the companies change their terms of service -- something that might prove difficult for users to track how their data is used or what they’re agreeing to. They also probed whether the companies are targeting potential competitors with their acquisition strategies.

In one of the most pointed inquiries, Joseph Neguse (D-Colo.) mentioned that Facebook owns four of the top six social networks by active users. "Is Facebook, in your view, a monopoly?” he asked.

Facebook’s Perault denied it’s a monopoly. He also defended the social media giant, saying it faces fierce competition for advertising revenues, bringing in less than a quarter of total U.S. online ad spending.

Addressing similar concerns, Amazon’s Sutton said the online retail giant’s share of the retail space as comparatively tiny —still just 4% total in the U.S. and smaller globally — and touted the positive effects it has had for the third-party businesses that sold $160 billion worth of products on its site last year.

Lawmakers also asked the tech executives to agree to certain conduct standards during the House’s investigation. Cicilline told the organizations not to engage in opposition research activities; Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) asked that the companies not retaliate against organizations or individuals involved in the review. In both cases, each executive gave their word that their respective company would comply.

Still, while bipartisan support for greater antitrust scrutiny of the tech industry has been mounting in Washington — the panel’s top Republican called lawmakers to take a “fair and balanced” approach in their investigation. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.) warned against “misguided” calls to break up tech companies like Facebook, which have become increasingly common among Democrats.

“Just because a business is big doesn’t mean it is bad,” Sensenbrenner said. “Antitrust laws focus on the conduct of companies and whether that conduct is bad. They do not exist to punish companies just because they’re big.”

The criticism of tech’s power at the antitrust hearing reflected a broader skepticism of Silicon Valley companies on the Hill at a trio of key hearings on Tuesday. Facebook executive David Marcus faced a beating from lawmakers as he testified about the social network’s plans to launch a digital currency, known as Project Libra. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, launched his opening remarks at the hearing by calling Facebook “dangerous.”

“Now Facebook may not intend to be dangerous, but surely they don’t respect the power of the technologies they’re playing with," Brown said. "Like a toddler who has gotten his hands on a book of matches, Facebook has burned down the house over and over and called every arson a learning experience.”

Meanwhile Karan Bhatia, Google’s vice president for public policy, was in the hot seat at the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Republican senators slammed the company for allegedly censoring conservative voices online. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a freshman senator who has emerged as one of the tech industry’s top critics in Congress, dug into the company on a host of issues—including how the company protects children from pedophiles on YouTube and the company’s business plans in China.

“Clearly trust and patience in your company and the behavior of your monopoly has run out,” Hawley said. “It has certainly run out with me, and I think it’s time for some accountability.”

By; Cristiano Lima and John Hendel of Politico

President Donald Trump threatened to open a probe into whether Google is committing “treason.” Sen. Bernie Sanders said he would push to break up Facebook, Google and Amazon. Sen. Ted Cruz took aim at Google in his campaign against alleged censorship of conservatives. And Democrats accused the internet giants of squelching competitors and slammed Facebook’s plans to offer a digital currency.

And that was just Tuesday.

But for all the flak Silicon Valley was taking from across Washington, the tech companies maintain a major advantage: Despite their shared suspicion and growing distrust of the tech industry, Democrats and Republicans appear to hold little common ground on what the problem is and how to fix it. And that could mean the odds of legislative punishment in the near term remain low.

The attacks Tuesday dealt with a hodgepodge of issues and sometimes-incompatible complaints, though often in withering terms, in particular at the morning Senate hearing where Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown called it “delusional” for Facebook to expect people to trust the company with their wallets.

“Their motto has been 'move fast and break things.' And they certainly have," Brown said at a hearing on Facebook's planned digital currency, Libra. "They moved fast and broke our political discourse, they broke journalism, they helped incite a genocide and they’re undermining our democracy."

At Cruz’s censorship hearing later in the day, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), compared Google to children who repeatedly sneak into the cookie jar despite their parents’ warnings: “I feel like you all push the boundaries until your hand gets slapped.”

She also scoffed at the $5 billion fine that the Federal Trade Commission has proposed imposing on Facebook for its violations of users’ privacy — a complaint that puts the conservative Tennessean in much the same camp as liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. "It should have been $50 billion," Blackburn said.

But amid the back-and-forth at a slew of congressional hearings, clear divisions were evident between Democrats and Republicans and even sometimes within the parties themselves, highlighting the lack of consensus on just what to do about tech companies that dominate so many aspects of Americans' lives.

Cruz (R-Texas) demanded that Google fork over data about how its algorithms work, to answer Republican questions about whether its main search engine and its YouTube video service discriminate against conservative viewpoints. Cruz again raised the prospect that Congress may pare back the online industry’s 23-year-old legal immunity for lawsuits over user-posted content, a running theme lately among tech critics in both parties.

But Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, the top Democrat on Cruz’s Judiciary subcommittee, hammered Republicans for even having Tuesday’s tech bias hearing — saying they are "browbeating the tech industry for a problem that does not exist."

In the House, Judiciary committee Democrats led by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) drilled representatives of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple over whether they've engaged in anti-competitive conduct, to the detriment of small retailers and the newspaper industry.

But the top Republican on the antitrust panel, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), warned against calls for sweeping antitrust action, saying that “just because a business is big doesn’t mean that it is bad.”

Earlier in the day, Republicans appeared split over Facebook's Libra digital currency. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) called it "wildly premature" to pass judgment on the project. But Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) appeared to share Brown’s skepticism, quipping: "I have great respect for Facebook but Facebook now wants to control the money supply. What could possibly go wrong?"

Trump had kicked off the day by entertaining a gravely serious accusation about Google: He said his administration would look into a charge by tech investor and Facebook board member Peter Thiel — and, Trump tweeted, "a great and brilliant guy who knows this subject better than anyone!” — that Google may be committing “treason” through its work in China. That suggested that he may urge the Justice Department to launch an investigation into the matter. The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment on Trump's statement.

The president later told reporters at the White House that he "would like to recommend to the various agencies, including perhaps our attorney general ... to maybe take a look" at what he called a "very strong charge" by Thiel.\

At the Cruz-led hearing Tuesday, Google public policy chief Karan Bhatia firmly pushed back against Thiel and Trump's assertions.

Addressing questions from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bhatia said Google has "absolutely not" found evidence of Chinese government infiltration of the company or its data; allowed considerations involving work in China to influence any decisions on U.S. government contracts; or turned a blind eye to any leaks of Google software or data to Chinese intelligence.

"Fundamentally in China we actually do very little today," Bhatia said.

Tech companies have deployed a range of strategies to deal with the increasing scrutiny in Washington.

They've generally kept a low-profile in the face of Trump's attacks, denying that politics influences their content decisions, while arguing more vocally against Democratic calls from Warren and others to break them up. Executives including Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg have argued their companies' scale allows them to invest money in developing new technologies and compete with Chinese rivals.

On the privacy front, many of the companies say they support federal privacy regulations in lieu of state-level rules, though Democrats warn against any national standard that could that gut strict privacy regulations in states like California.

Despite the long Washington list of tech grievances, agreement on any one particular issue remains elusive. Democrats continue to be the most vocal about their unhappiness with the tech companies on data privacy and competition, while Republicans keep pressing their argument that conservatives are the victims of the industry’s online censorship — something the tech companies emphatically deny.

As POLITICO reported last week, Congress is running out of time to reach an agreement on one area where both Republicans and Democrats have seemed to be largely aligned — enacting federal privacy legislation to restrain how companies like Facebook can profit off of people’s personal data. Last week’s news about the FTC’s proposed $5 billion fine for Facebook largely drew a yawn from Wall Street, and the company saw its stock price rise to its highest level in more than a year.

And tech firms also continue to benefit from Trump’s policies despite his escalating rhetoric against Silicon Valley. Just last week, his trade advisers went to bat against France’s plans for a new “digital services” tax that would hit companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, while Apple continues to escape the brunt of Trump’s trade sanctions on China.

On Monday, Trump even defended the billions of dollars in economic incentives that New York City had offered to Amazon for its proposed second headquarters, calling it “terrible” that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and fellow activists had helped block the deal. That was even though Trump frequently criticizes Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, for everything from its effect on brick-and-mortar retailers to Bezos’ ownership of The Washington Post.

By: Scott Anderson of the Patch

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence saw the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that detained migrant adults faced at a U.S. detention center in McAllen, Texas.

His tour came in advance of ICE raids in select U.S. cities and amid a growing humanitarian crisis at the southern U.S. Border.

In comments following his tour, Pence called upon Congress to take action to begin alleviating the buildup of detained adults and families along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"The McAllen station, where our cells are overflowing … ought to be a very clear message to every American that the time for action is now and the time for Congress to act to end the flow of families that are coming north from Central America to our border is now," Pence told CNN in an interview following his tour.

Wisconsin has eight members in the U.S. House of Representatives and two in the U.S. Senate who could potentially vote in favor or against reforms in the coming session.

Wisconsin Patch reached out to each Wisconsin representative to gauge their opinion on the current state of affairs. We requested opinions from each legislator at the same time on Monday, stating that our intent was to give each the space to share their view and allow readers to see where the commonalities and differences are in each response.

Here's what they said:

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican

"Since 2014 ... 1,086,000 people have come in as an unaccompanied child or, primarily, as a family unit and have been apprehended. 1,086,000 people – about half of those have come in the last nine months alone. So it's overwhelming our system, and the goal of our policy should be to reduce that flow. Turn it into a legal process. There's a number of things we can do. One of the things we have to do is raise that initial bar in terms of claiming asylum. Hopefully, set up centers in Guatemala, in Central America, so people can claim refugee status. But this is completely out of control.

"There was a survey done by the Association of Research and Social Studies in Guatemala that said that a third of Guatemalans intended to migrate to the United States — that's almost 6 million people. A Gallup poll showed 158 million people worldwide, 42 million people in Latin America, want to migrate to the United States. We can't take all comers. We have to have a legal system, primarily designed toward working with our economy to get people in here to work so we can continue to grow our economy. This is completely out of control.

"I'm working with Democrat colleagues on a pilot program called Operation Safe Return where we can rapidly and more accurately determine those families that clearly don't have a valid asylum claim, and the majority of them don't have a valid asylum claim, and safely return them to Central America. That will require some U.S. funding as well. There are also humanitarian organizations who are willing to facilitate that, but we have to have that consequence."

Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat

"The inhumane treatment of migrant children by the Trump administration is a disgrace. I joined my colleagues to introduce the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act because it's clear we must act to do more to promote the health and safety of migrant children seeking refuge in our country."

This week, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin helped introduce the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act to put an end to the Trump administration's cruel and neglectful treatment of children at the U.S.-Mexico border and reform how children fleeing persecution are treated between the moment at which they arrive at our borders to claim asylum and the ultimate resolution of their asylum case.

1st District Congress Bryan Steil, Republican

"There is a humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Law enforcement and our judicial system are overwhelmed by the sheer number of migrants attempting to come into our country. That is why I supported bipartisan legislation to provide $4.6 billion in humanitarian aid for the border.

"This funding will be used for housing, medical, and transportation needs at the border, as well as ensuring the government can process immigration cases and investigate human traffickers. We must now work to secure the border, support law enforcement, and address the root causes our broken immigration system. We must work together to prevent this from occurring in the future."

2nd District Congress, Mark Pocan, Democrat

No response submitted.

3rd District Congress, Ron Kind, Democrat

"Once again, the president fails to adhere to what they teach us in the bible and what serves as my moral compass: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The president needs to apologize and stop this behavior."

4th District Congress, Gwen Moore, Democrat

"The humanitarian crisis happening at our border is a byproduct of Trump's inhumane immigration policies. He created this crisis, but is driving a dangerous narrative that asylum seekers pose a threat to our nation. I visited the border over the weekend, and what I witnessed couldn't be further from the truth.

"What I found were men, women, and children packed into cages whose only crimes were seeking a better life. One of the facilities I visited was experiencing a meningitis outbreak, a disease that can be instantly deadly without proper medical care or vaccination. There is no doubt that the Trump Administration is using cruel and unusual policies to deter people from seeking the legal right to asylum."

5th District Congress. James Sensenbrenner, Republican

"Congress should have solved these problems 13 years ago by passing my immigration reform and border security bill. However, opponents in the Senate stalled the effort, and the festering issues at our southern border are now out of control.

"Record numbers of individuals are flooding into our country, caused in part by the Obama administration's failure to enforce our immigration laws as well as it's disastrous 'catch-and-release' policy. Make no mistake, these decisions sent a clear message: at the expense of those following the rules, we'll let you cut the line and come into America without any consequences.

"Now, rather than working with Republicans, Democrats refuse to take meaningful action addressing the root cause of the problem: a broken system and a porous border. We are a nation of laws, and the only pathway forward is for Congress is to enact reforms where needed, such as securing our southern border and increasing the number of judges to clear out the asylum backlog."

6th District Congress, Glenn Grothman, Republican

No response submitted.

7th District Congress, Sean Duffy, Republican

Congressman Duffy responded to Wisconsin Patch by referring us to a number of Tweets published on his official Twitter handle following our query. Below is the text of those tweets:

"The immigrants I know, including my mother-in-law, are the people most disgusted by Rep. Ilhan Omar's ingratitude to the nation who rescued her family from an African refugee camp and gave her the equivalent of a lottery ticket to come to the USA.

"Unbelievably, her public speeches are littered with statements like, 'I am ashamed of America's hypocrisy,' despite the fact that her story is proof of America's generosity, goodness and unparalleled opportunity.

"It is also a testament to the prosperity created by American capitalism — something Omar and others wish to destroy.

"Those we invite to our country are not learning much about our greatness once they get here. That's our fault. We must do a better job as a country and as parents of teaching civics and patriotism to our children.

"Our schools and universities are far too obsessed with America's shortcomings and are failing miserably at teaching our remarkable history of freedom, honoring our founding fathers, and passing on a love and respect for our exceptional country. That is sad and unsustainable."

8th District Congress, Mike Gallagher, Republican

No response submitted.

By: John Eggerton of Multichannel News

WASHINGTON — Sounding a bit like Google execs in front of the Senate Commerce Committee almost a decade ago, a top Facebook official told the House Antitrust Subcommittee that it faces “vigorous” competition for its products and services, including fierce competition for revenue and low barriers of entry for new competitors.

That is according to the prepared testimony of Matt Perault, Facebook’s director of public policy.

He also said the company had been a boon to small businesses, saying it had "democratized advertising, helping millions of small and medium-sized businesses along the way."

Perault suggested Facebook had been successful because it had worked hard and taken risks. "America does not punish success,” he said. “It rewards it."

Google was represented at the same hearing by Adam Cohen, director of economic policy, who was making the same arguments in his testimony about being subject to vigorous competition for search, including from Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo and "many more."

Last year, Cohen pointed out, 54% of product searches originated on Amazon, and specialized search services are growing in the areas of flights, hotels and restaurants.

Amazon associate general counsel for competition Nate Sutton weighed in, too. He spoke in his testimony of how each of the company’s many businesses “faces intense competition from well-established competitors,” including its online retail business. Sutton said Amazon knows its retail customers have many options, including brick-and-mortar stores that operate their own online businesses and the third-party sellers Amazon hosts on its platform — many of which are small businesses it is helping out.

And for Apple, said chief compliance officer Kyle Andeer: “The competition is fierce. Our customers have an ever-growing number of choices when it comes to products and services. We compete against some of the largest companies in the world, both foreign and domestic."

Their statements were at odds with the general tenor of the House’s inquiry into Big Tech, which is based on the companies' massive size, market cap and dominance in various areas. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have talked about the need to rein in or break up giant edge providers, with Republicans pointing to allegations of conservative bias and Democrats speaking of the need to downsize converged corporate giants in general.

Rep. David Cicciline (D-R.I.), chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee, gave the companies props for dynamism, immense tech breakthroughs and economic contributions. But he said they had been allowed to grow without sufficient antitrust oversight, leading to an increasingly concentrated and less open internet “growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The companies’ protestations about fierce competition notwithstanding, Cicciline said Google controls nearly all the search in the country (about 90% of all searches), with Amazon controlling almost half of all online commerce, despite the company's statement that it only captures a small percentage or retail. Cicciline said Amazon’s closest competitor, eBay, controls less than 6% of the market.

Facebook controls more than half of the U.S. social media market, Cicciline said, with about 2.7 billion monthly users. Notwithstanding the growth of Chinese social app TikTok — which Perault noted as one of its fierce competitors — Cicciline said Facebook captures over 80% of global social media revenue.

Apple, the chairman pointed out, is under scrutiny for prices in its App Store and policies that may favor its own services and products.

Cicilline said there was a good argument that the market lends itself to shielding dominant firms and producing a "kill zone" for new startups that might want to challenge them. “There is growing concern that anti-competitive practices and the gatekeeper role of online platforms is now imperiling small business in our communities,” he said, echoing the knock on ISPs inside the Beltway of the past decade.

Ranking member Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Ill.) raised red flags about coming down too hard on Big Tech. The antitrust laws don't exist to punish size or success, he said, adding that just because a company is big doesn't necessarily mean it is bad.

He echoed the Big Tech comments that they had actually helped small businesses, not hurt them. “Breaking up big businesses because they are large could wind up hurting small businesses throughout the country,” Sensenbrenner said.

He also said breaking up the companies would not solve all the problems, like privacy, he said.

Sensenbrenner did not dismiss the possibility of anti-competitive conduct, but said he was offering a counterpoint to some of the more radical speculation. He said they should look seriously at wrongdoing, but not break up companies by fiat because big was inherently bad. 

As in Politico's Morning Tech Newsletter

GREETINGS TECHLINGS AND WELCOME TO MORNING TECH. It’s Tuesday, the second leg of Amazon Prime Day, and we’re also now officially halfway through July. How? How?

Got a news tip? Write me at or @Ali_Lev. An event for our calendar? Send details to Anything else? Full team info below. And don’t forget: add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.


TECH’S SUMMER GRILLING — Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple execs testify at a House antitrust hearing today, the first time all four companies face a congressional panel together about competition in the tech sector. The session will also feature a slew of staunch tech critics, including Columbia law professor Tim Wu, who’s called for Facebook to be broken up, and Institute for Local Self-Reliance co-founder Stacy Mitchell, who has lauded Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) campaign proposal to split up all four companies.

— What to expect: Wu will call for government officials to make more use of “retroactive review of mergers that have led to anticompetitive consequences,” according to a written copy of his testimony shared with MT. That argument is likely to resonate with Democrats on the panel, including antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who has said Facebook’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram should have faced “more review” and urged the Federal Trade Commission to launch new investigations of those acquisitions.

— But Republicans may strike a more cautious tone. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the panel’s top Republican, said in a statement that while the committee “has a responsibly to scrutinize the business practices of this industry,” panel lawmakers “must do so with a fair and balanced approach.” (Read more on how the House antitrust probe is splitting conservatives here.)

LIBRA BACKLASH THREATENS ITS 2020 LAUNCH — “Facebook is botching its dream of becoming a new powerhouse in finance, failing to win over lawmakers and regulators who say they are far from ready to allow the social media giant’s ambitious cryptocurrency plans to move forward,” POLITICO’s Zachary Warmbrodt reports ahead of the back-to-back Senate and House hearings on the topic that are set to kick off this morning. “The rollout of the Libra project is the latest evidence that Facebook is still struggling to wield influence in both Washington and in the European Union after being dogged by controversies about its data privacy practices and role in facilitating election interference.” Read the full story here.

— P.R. disaster? “When you have Steve Mnuchin and the president and Maxine Waters all being critical, it does not bode well for you in terms of how Washington views what you do,” said Richard Levick, the chief executive of public relations firm LEVICK. The real problem, he said, is that Facebook is “out of trust” in D.C. Facebook’s splashy announcement of Libra likely compounded the scrutiny from lawmakers, one fintech lobbyist told POLITICO. “They’re talking about services that are the most highly regulated things in the economy and they’re treating it in a cavalier way,” the lobbyist said. “No other companies have approached this this way, and I think that’s why this has turned into such a disaster.”

PLUS, CRUZ TAKES AIM AT GOOGLE — Sen. Ted Cruz today holds his long-promised hearing on allegations that Google stifles conservative speech, a Republican talking point that got a high-profile airing at Trump’s “social media summit” at the White House last week. Along with Karan Bhatia, Google’s vice president for government affairs and public policy, Cruz’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution will hear from a representative of PragerU, a right-wing advocacy group that filed a lawsuit against Google and YouTube over claims of censorship; Andy Parker, who has fought Google after video of the fatal shooting of his daughter proliferated online; and others. Google, as well as Twitter and Facebook, have denied political bias in the way they handle content.

— Democrats are none too thrilled with the session: “This is a hearing in search of a problem,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the ranking member on Cruz’s subcommittee. “There isn’t a liberal conspiracy to remove conservative content on these platforms.”

— What comes next: A Cruz aide told MT the Texas Republican is exploring legislation to address allegations of bias in tech, including potentially altering the legal protections afforded to online companies under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. And the Cruz-led subcommittee may look to hold additional hearings to inform any such measure, the aide said. We’ll be tracking to see how Cruz’s push fits in with the recently unveiled Senate Judiciary tech task force, led by fellow panel member Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

By: Emily Birnbaum of The Hill

Silicon Valley is bracing for a high-stakes hearing on Tuesday as executives from the nation’s largest tech companies are summoned before a House investigation into their market power for the first time.

The House Judiciary Committee is hauling in some of tech’s fiercest critics and defenders for a hearing that will be a critical moment in the panel’s bipartisan antitrust probe.

For the executives from Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google it’s an opportunity to publicly defend their business practices amid intensifying questions from Congress and regulators over their enormous market power and whether they actively disadvantage smaller competitors.

For lawmakers and industry critics who have been accusing tech giants of monopolistic behavior for years, it will be an opportunity to make their case to the public and put those executives on the hot seat.

“This is not a fire drill,” said Stacy Mitchell, who will be testifying Tuesday in her role as co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a group that researches Amazon’s competition practices.

“Congress often responds to concerns by holding hearings that, in many cases, don’t go anywhere,” Mitchell said. “This is different. This is a months-long investigation that involves not only hearings but deep research. ... The nature of this is much more substantial than what I think the public is typically used to seeing with some of the hearings.” 

Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee have been holding closed-door meetings with tech critics and experts for the past month, including many from rival companies who say they have been heard by the industry’s biggest players.

The chairman of House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), last week met with Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, who has railed against Google’s stranglehold over online search. Members of the committee also held a private meeting with Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who has called for the company to be broken up. 

According to witnesses and advocates who spoke to The Hill ahead of the meeting, the antitrust subcommittee members have been calling in academics, critics and company representatives to offer expertise about the largest tech companies’ potentially monopolistic practices.

It’s unclear so far how the investigation will play out along party lines. As of right now, members of both parties have indicated an interest in antitrust questions, and the investigation has been touted as “bipartisan.” 

Cicilline in a statement to The Hill raised serious concerns about the tech giants’ domination and raised the possibility that the hearing would offer “possible paths forward” for addressing those issues.

“In recent years, the Internet has become increasingly concentrated, less open, and growingly hostile to innovation and entrepreneurship,” Cicilline said. “The combination of high network effects, switching costs for consumers, and the accumulation of immense amounts of consumers’ data can result in ‘winner take all’ markets that shield dominant firms from competitive threats.”

“This trend is not the inevitable consequence of technological progress,” he added. “It is the result of policy choices we are making as a country.”

But Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the full House Judiciary Committee, emphasized the enormous “success” and “innovation” from companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google and warned against criticism going too far.

“Large tech companies are a critical part of our economy, and they represent some of America’s best innovation,” Collins said in the statement to The Hill. “I hope the subcommittee hearing on Tuesday focuses on ways we can encourage innovation and competition because the two are far from mutually exclusive.”

“I look forward to a productive conversation with some of the most successful companies in the world, and I encourage my colleagues to use this opportunity to gain answers to questions they have about innovation and competition, rather than using this as an opportunity to criticize companies and individuals,” he said.

A House Judiciary aide added the investigation “does not include bipartisan agreement to subpoena, compel testimony from, or start a critical investigation into any individual or large tech company.” 

The hearing will likely offer insight into the daylight between Democrats and Republicans on the issue. While left-leaning members are likely to slam the enormous companies, which offer services to billions of people, some members on the right — who traditionally eschew government intervention and promote free-market ideals — could be more hesitant.

“Our subcommittee has a responsibly to scrutinize the business practices of this industry, but must do so with a fair and balanced approach,” Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, said in a statement to The Hill. 

Despite those potential divisions, tech companies are bringing in their big guns for the hearing.

Google is sending Adam Cohen, its director of economic policy who fought hard against antitrust charges against Google in the European Union, while Facebook will offer head of global policy Matt Perault, who has been defending the company’s privacy practices for years.

Also testifying will be Apple’s vice president of corporate law, Kyle Andeer, a tough former Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department litigator who has defended the company in antitrust cases, and Nate Sutton, Amazon’s associate general counsel for competition. 

On Monday, the committee announced that Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of tech trade group NetChoice — which counts Facebook, Google and eBay as members — will be testifying.

All of the companies declined to comment but pointed The Hill to previous public statements they have made on antitrust issues. 

Apple stressed it has paid out $120 billion to developers since it launched the App Store, anticipating it will face criticism over how it runs the platform. 

Amazon argued that it competes directly with a number of brick-and-mortar stores, pointing out it has “retail competitors that are larger than us in every country where we operate.” The company also sought to get ahead of arguments about its acquisition of Whole Foods by pointing out Amazon controls less than 4 percent of the grocery market. Amazon controls about 37.7 percent of online sales in general.

Google pointed to previous comments by its CEO Sundar Pichai, who said the company is not “surprised” by the antitrust scrutiny but warned against government action against big tech only “for the sake of regulating.” 

The antitrust subcommittee’s investigation kicked off last month with a hearing on how tech giants have harmed the media industry. It is unclear if there will be any more public action in the probe before the August recess, which is only a few weeks away.

But the probe, which is expected to last 18 months, has ambitious plans, with lawmakers floating more intensive oversight of the federal agencies regulating big tech or even updates to antitrust law to account for how online monopolies function. 

It is one of the most significant congressional probes into market power issues since the 1970s, Mitchell said. 

Tim Wu, a Columbia University academic and leading tech antitrust expert who is testifying on Monday, said the larger probe signals a “change in consciousness” as the country becomes more anxious about economic consolidation and private companies amassing too much power. 

“I think there’s an ideological change coming on,” Wu told The Hill. “People are looking for answers. They’re trying to get at this question about, ‘How do you make an economy that’s ... a little more widespread in its allocation of prosperity?’

“I think it helps beat the drum.”

By: Diane Bartz of Yahoo Finance

WASHINGTON, July 16 (Reuters) - Executives from tech giants Apple Inc, Inc, Facebook Inc and Alphabet's Google go before the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel Tuesday to discuss competition in online markets.

The committee is likely to discuss antitrust probes of the four companies under way at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission, as well as allegations that the companies seek to thwart nascent competitors.

Democrats, in particular, are expected to press Facebook about a proposed $5 billion settlement between the company and the FTC to resolve allegations that the company violated a 2011 consent agreement by inappropriately sharing information on 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

In his testimony, Facebook's Matt Perault, head of global policy development, notes that it faces stiff competition in social media from Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and others, and even stiffer competition in seeking out advertisers.

The other companies are expected to make similar arguments.

Other congressional panels Tuesday will focus on Facebook's plans to bring out a cryptocurrency, the Libra, and allegations that Google is biased against conservatives in search results.

Witnesses include Facebook's Perault; Google's Adam Cohen, director of economic policy; Nate Sutton, an associate general counsel at Amazon and Apple's Kyle Andeer, a vice president and chief compliance officer.

While the tech companies appear to have few friends on Capitol Hill, there has been some pushback from Republicans against a proposal by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is running for president, that Amazon, Facebook and Google be forced to divest companies that they purchased previously.

"I don't think the goal of antitrust law is to break up a big company just because they're big," said Representative Kelly Armstrong, a Republican from North Dakota, on Fox Television. "I don't ever want to penalize any company for success."

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, cautioned that the panel should use a "fair and balanced" approach to its probe.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05) offered the following statement after voting against the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act:

“Providing the brave men and women in our military with the resources necessary to protect our country has traditionally been a bipartisan effort, and the Senate has already passed a good bill with overwhelming support. Unfortunately, Democrats are playing politics with this authorizing legislation by denying us a vote on the Senate’s compromise bill. Instead, they forced a vote on their partisan version, which provides woefully inadequate funding, is filled with poison pill amendments, and has no chance of becoming law. 

Moreover, the House Democrats’ bill would jeopardize our military readiness, leave us vulnerable to attacks by our foreign adversaries, and prevent the administration from alleviating the crisis at our southern border. Speaker Pelosi needs to do the right thing and bring the bipartisan Senate bill before the House for a vote.”

By Jim Sensenbrenner

The American economy is thriving. That is an indisputable fact. We’ve added more than 3.7 million jobs since President Trump signed the historic Tax Cuts & Jobs Act into law in December 2017. Nationwide, we’ve seen 15 straight months of more job openings than job seekers. Here in Wisconsin, our unemployment rate has remained at or below 3 percent for the last year.

Following years of stagnation, American families are emerging with new optimism as they see a growing economy and additional opportunities — if you want a job, you have a good chance of landing one. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board recently compared the Trump and Obama years as “A Tale of Two Economies,” highlighting what good can happen when policies focus on growth.

And now, Republicans are fighting to improve our standing in the global economy too. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified 25 years ago, and it is time for a rebalancing of this trade agreement. Under the guidance of President Trump, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro are working to renegotiate our trade deals and have successfully reached a final agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada — the “USMCA.”

For the last year, the president and his representatives have traveled the country,

listening to workers and business owners about the impacts of trade on their productivity. In May, I had the privilege of hosting Dr. Navarro at Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC). This visit highlighted the amazing work WCTC is doing to grow the manufacturing workforce in southeastern Wisconsin. However, these new jobs will only thrive if our trade policies empower workers and businesses to compete in the global marketplace.

Tomorrow, Milwaukee’s Derco Aerospace Inc. will host President Trump to discuss the need for 21st century trade policies. I am grateful to the president and his administration for focusing on Wisconsin’s manufacturing needs. We must help him finish the job by pushing the USMCA through Congress this year.

The USMCA will benefit Wisconsin directly. One aspect of the new trade deal particularly important to Wisconsin is that it will eliminate components of Canada’s unfair milk pricing program, opening new markets and providing relief for our state’s dairy farmers. The deal will also force Mexico to correct its unfair labor practices, putting American workers on a level playing field. These are two very important provisions considering the fact that, in 2018, 31 percent of all Wisconsin’s exported goods ($7 billion)went to Canada and 15.5 percent went to Mexico ($3.5 billion).

Along with provisions to improve the trading of traditional goods, our new trade deal addressesnewer technologies. The

USMCA will bring our intellectual property standards into the modern era, protecting the work of American innovators and entrepreneurs. It will also cut costly regulations that keep small businesses from participating in cross-border trade.

This new trade deal is good for America. I’m encouraged that the Mexican Senate overwhelmingly ratified the USMCA in June and that President Trump has met with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau recently in Washington to shore up more support for the agreement. Now, the United States must act. House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, must bring the USMCA before the House for immediate consideration. There should be no delay.

Failure to do so will leave American workers and businesses playing by an outdated set of rules as our foreign competitors move on without us.

I am hearing from small business owners, farmers, young people entering the workforce, and families who want us to rebalance our trade agreements and keep strengthening the American economy with balanced trade rules. Let’s get it done now.

(Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner represents Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District.)

Printed in the West Bend Daily News, Oconomowoc Enterprise, and Waukesha Freeman.