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Senate’s Antitrust Crackdown Sputters as Schumer Signals Doubts

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 7/27/2022 Emily Birnbaum

(Bloomberg) -- Legislation aimed at reining in the power of giant technology companies appears to have hit a wall after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told a group of donors Tuesday evening that he doesn’t believe there are enough votes to pass the measure. 

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Schumer called the bill a “high priority,” but said the Senate doesn’t have the 60 votes needed to approve it, according to people who attended a fundraiser for Schumer at Bistro Bis, a restaurant near Capitol Hill.

Chuck Schumer © Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg Chuck Schumer

Schumer made the comments in response to a question about the measure, the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, which would prevent internet platforms from giving advantages to their own products and services. 

Schumer had previously affirmed that he was working with the legislation’s lead Democratic sponsor in the Senate, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, but he hadn’t said publicly that he thinks the bill’s prospects are dim. He had earlier pledged to bring the legislation to a vote early this summer. Four senators have tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days, making it more difficult to pass legislation on contentious issues.

The bill would prevent Apple. Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Meta Platforms, Inc. and Amazon from using their gatekeeper power to discriminate against rivals.

The legislation now faces an extremely narrow window when the Senate returns in September with other priorities pushing ahead of the closely watched measure. 

Schumer at a press conference earlier Tuesday said the Senate’s priorities ahead of the August recess are semiconductor legislation, budget reconciliation and a bill to address healthcare for veterans. He didn’t include the tech antitrust bill.

Schumer told the donors that people have urged him to put the bill on the floor, a strategy that would put pressure on undecided lawmakers to vote in favor. He said that he doesn’t believe that would be effective.

The bill’s co-sponsors have maintained that they have the votes to pass the bill with votes from both Democrats and Republicans. And support for the legislation has been growing. On Tuesday, the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small businesses across the country, announced that it’s backing the bill.

Tech Antitrust Bill Threatens to Break Apple, Google’s Grip on the Internet

Klobuchar, referring to Schumer, said in a statement Tuesday night that “we were promised a vote on this bill and we take him at his word.”

“We have growing momentum and the support to pass the bill despite the fact that the companies have spent an atrocious amount of money on lobbyists and TV ads spreading false information,” she added.

A spokesman for Schumer referred to his recent comment that he was working with Klobuchar and reaffirmed his support.

Schumer made the remarks while a group of roughly two dozen protesters gathered outside of Bistro Bis, an effort to pressure Schumer into holding the vote on the tech legislation. The protesters held signs that read “Stop Chuckin’ up to Big Tech!” and chanted, “Hold the vote!”

“This is a bipartisan priority,” said Jon Schweppe, director of policy and government affairs at the American Principles Project, a right-leaning group that advocates for antitrust reform. “The fact is that by a lot of peoples’ estimations, the votes are there so it’s down to Chuck Schumer.”

The fundraiser for Schumer’s political action committee, held at a pivotal moment before the congressional August recess, had a suggested contribution of $2,500 or $5,000. Attendees included lobbyists for Microsoft Corp., American Express. Co. and Procter & Gamble Co.

Representative Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican, made an appearance at the happy hour for the protesters, which took place before the group moved to the front of Bistro Bis.

Schumer left the fundraiser after the protest dissipated.

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