Silicon Valley vs. Trump: A meeting of the minds?

Most of Silicon Valley opposed the president-elect during the election. Can they put their differences behind them?

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel on the podium before the the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 19. President-elect Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with some of the most prominent tech executives from Silicon Valley in a meeting this week.

Some of the heaviest hitters in Silicon Valley are scheduled to meet with President-elect Donald Trump this week in an effort to find common ground after they traded barbs throughout the campaign.

The executives expected to attend the summit in New York on Wednesday include Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, Tesla Motors chief executive Elon Musk, and both the chief executive and chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, according to The Wall Street Journal. Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook are five of the seven most valuable companies in the US.

Most of this list was unequivocally against Mr. Trump during the election. While the meeting’s agenda has not been made public, the executives and Trump will likely try to put the campaign behind them and resolve their differences on issues such as immigration, “net neutrality,” and tax reform.

The invitation for the meeting was sent out by Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus; Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and transition team adviser and billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, USA Today reported last week.

Mr. Thiel was one of the only Silicon Valley heavyweights to support Trump. In fact, some coming to the table on Wednesday bet heavily on Trump’s Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton. Ms. Sandberg of Facebook supported her, Mr. Cook of Apple held a fundraiser for her, and Mr. Schmidt of Alphabet also helped the Clinton campaign.

But immediately following Trump’s victory, tech leaders reached out to him to wish him congratulations, according to USA Today.  

One point the two sides have clashed on is Trump's hardline stance on immigration. This attitude has been concerning to Silicon Valley because many tech firms have a major stake in the H-1B visa program, as The Christian Science Monitor previously reported. The program is intended to keep highly skilled foreign workers in the United States by offering a path to a green card. Silicon Valley has lobbied the Obama administration to raise the cap of the program above 85,000 people per year.

Trump has also targeted companies like Apple and IBM, accusing them of sending jobs overseas. During the campaign he said he would “get Apple to start building their damn computers and things” in the US, according to NBC. Apple says it employs more than 80,000 people in the US and created an additional two million US jobs indirectly, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“Net neutrality” has also been a point of contention. Silicon Valley is largely in favor of net neutrality, the principle that all internet service providers should treat traffic equally. Companies like Amazon and Netflix are in favor of it because it would protect their video-streaming services. But Trump has characterized the policy as an "attack on the internet" that "will target conservative media."

But the two sides could see common ground on tax reform. Trump has said he would be in favor of repatriation, allowing companies like Apple to bring cash they’re holding overseas back to the US without major penalties. Apple is holding the most cash overseas of any US company, at about $230 billion, according to Moody’s.

The relationship between Trump and Silicon Valley has been more complicated than President Obama’s, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in July: the president appointed the first chief technology officer in 2009, has pushed for the Federal Communications Commission's approval of rules on net neutrality, and his administration has "become something of a 'revolving door' to the tech world."

But Silicon Valley has embarked on one of the most active lobbying efforts of any US industry. Last year, it spent twice as much on lobbying as Wall Street, The Chicago Tribune reported. The five biggest tech companies spent $49 million on Washington lobbyists in 2015, while the five largest banks spent $19.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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