As a bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers mounts a battle to rein in Big Tech, some insiders say it faces a formidable and possibly surprising obstacle: Nancy Pelosi.
The 81-year-old Democratic House majority leader has made symbolic gestures to defy Silicon Valley such as refusing to take calls from Mark Zuckerberg and declaring 2019 that “the era of self-regulation is over.”
Nevertheless, insiders say she’s slow-walking legislation, including a so-called “non-discrimination bill” that would put a major dent in tech firms including Google and Amazon. The proposal would prohibit the practice of the companies giving their own products favorable treatment in search results.
The bill — sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) — was one of six that passed the House Judiciary Committee in June. A nearly-identical companion bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was introduced last month in the Senate and is gaining steam.
Proponents of the bill say it would take on Big Tech by letting smaller challengers compete on a level playing field. For example, Amazon would be banned from ranking its Amazon Basics label above third-party sellers, while Google would be banned from integrating its Google maps feature directly into search results.
Pelosi, whose San Francisco district represents the beating heart of the tech world, is married to a venture capitalist who makes millions trading shares of big tech companies like Google and Apple.
She has said that she broadly supports legislation to rein in Big Tech but has not publicly endorsed the non-discrimination bill or committed to bringing any specific legislation to the floor.
“Pelosi hasn’t been pushing very hard for those bills,” a Washington, D.C. adviser for a tech giant that would be affected by the legislation told The Post, adding that the non-discrimination bill would be “quite serious” for his client.
“I’m sure Pelosi is protecting California workers and companies,” dished a DC Democrat who works on antitrust. “I think it is complicated legislation and there is pushback from the California delegation.”
A prominent Republican lobbyist put it more bluntly: “Pelosi won’t let it get to the floor.”
Indeed, some well-placed insiders told The Post they believe Republicans winning back the House in the midterms — a bigger possibility after Tuesday’s election victories — could pave the way for real tech reform since it would result in her removal.
“That’s not an unreasonable hypothesis,” William Kovacic, a professor at George Washington University who was a Republican commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission from 2006 to 2011 told The Post. “Not at all.”
However, not everyone agrees Pelosi is blocking the bill.
Mike Davis, a former Grassley staffer and head of a conservative anti-Big Tech group called the Internet Accountability Project, said he believes that Pelosi will bring the bill to the floor.
“I’ve heard that if Buck and Cicilline can get enough Republicans and Democrats on board that she’s committed to bringing this up for a vote,” said Davis.
He predicted that two to four of the six antitrust bills that made it out of the House Judiciary Committee will be signed into law — including the non-discrimination bill.
“It’s good politics for the Democrats,” he said. “Democrats are going to need to be able to point to a bipartisan ability to govern this next election because they’re going to get slammed if they can’t point to something.”
He added that bills designed to increase competition in the tech sphere could play well in Pelosi’s district since smaller tech firms “get screwed over by Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple.”
Looming over the battle is the possibility that the GOP retakes the House in 2022’s midterm elections and replaces Pelosi with minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has signaled support for anti-Big Tech measures but, like Pelosi, has not committed to supporting the anti-discrimination bill in particular.
Some insiders venture that a GOP takeover of the house would kill the bill, even if it were to pass the Senate. They point to representatives like Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who’s a ranking member of the House Judiciary committee who has strongly opposed the bill.
Yet the prominent Republican lobbyist is more optimistic.
“I see fairly strong momentum next spring to pass the Senate bill,” the lobbyist said, noting there are already five Republican Senate co-sponsors. “The House will wait until after the midterms.”
The Big Tech adviser noted, however, that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer has been a big defender of Google in the past. He’s who would decide if and when to bring the Klobuchar bill to the floor. The bill will take 60 votes to pass, a high hurdle.
Pelosi, McCarthy and Schumer are all staying mum about the issue. All three did not return requests for comment from The Post.