Bruce Reed, summoner of the techlash
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In March of 2018, longtime Democratic operative BRUCE REED visited Facebook headquarters to sit down with COO SHERYL SANDBERG and ELLIOT SCHRAGE, the company’s policy chief at the time.
The meeting was contentious.
Reed, who’s involvement in the meeting was not previously reported, came to discuss privacy and protecting children with prominent tech critic JIM STEYER, the founder of Common Sense Media, where Reed was a senior adviser. In an interview, Steyer said that the pair saw Facebook CEO MARK ZUCKERBERG briefly, “but we really met with Sheryl and Elliot, the people who ran Facebook, right?”
Steyer said that Sandberg and Schrage seemed to think Reed would be more reasonable and moderate. “[B]ut the truth is we agreed, and we were totally on the same page,” Steyer said. “We said, ‘Why are you doing kids messenger? And why are you letting the Russians use your platform to spread misinformation and disinformation?’ We asked them all sorts of things that did not make them happy.”
Months later, Steyer and Reed were key architects of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), one of the most far-reaching pieces of tech industry legislation passed by a state at the time. The measure faced opposition from, among others, Facebook.
Now Reed serves as President JOE BIDEN’s top policy adviser, and the experience he gained working on the CCPA and meeting with tech leaders like Sandberg is informing the federal approach to the social media behemoths. Starting during the transition last fall, Reed has taken the lead on Biden’s tech policy personnel choices.
To the pleasant surprise of many tough-on-tech left-wing activists, the Biden administration has chosen a slate of adversarial appointees, including LINA KHAN as FTC Commissioner, JONATHAN KANTER for the assistant attorney general for antitrust, and TIM WU on the National Economic Council.
“I think that the roster of appointments in this space were initially what we’d have expected from Warren or Sanders’ presidency,” said SARAH MILLER, the executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project and a proponent of rigorous antitrust enforcement on tech companies.
“Yea, it’s a surprise,” said MATT STOLLER, a fellow antitrust advocate and author of Goliath, a book that makes the case for going after monopoly power.
To some progressives, Reed’s role is particularly surprising.
Reed has long been derided in left-wing circles as a neoliberal, triangulating squish who will always steer center. During the transition, left-wing voices lobbied hard against him becoming chief of staff or the head of the Office of Management and Budget. One group even did some tilted polling to show his resume made him unpopular.
And Reed does have a centrist record. In the 1990’s, he was an advocate for a bipartisan restructuring of the welfare system during the Clinton administration and worked on the 1994 crime bill. During the Obama administration, he served as staff director on the Simpson-Bowles commission which called for cutting Social Security in order to help reduce the deficit.
But his defenders say that progressives’ caricature of him is wrong, or at least incomplete.
“I wouldn’t call them an ideologue. I think he’s a really intelligent, really caring, thoughtful, progressive person, but he also wants to get stuff done, not just talk,” said Steyer. “He’s an effective problem solver, who puts people first and he’s willing to make strategic compromises in order to get landmark stuff done.”
Reed’s aggressive posture toward tech is not just because it’s a progressive cause du jour but because he sees a bipartisan consensus forming around the issue that makes action possible.
“I think there’s an emerging consensus that it’s long past time to hold the big social media platforms accountable for what’s published on their platforms, the way we do newspaper publishers and broadcasters,” Reed said at a Georgetown University forum this past December. “We can’t sit back and let the Fourth Industrial Revolution cast the American worker aside and gut the middle class.”
As for his work on CCPA, Reed compared it to the “taking on the railroads in the 1890s.”
Reed has been particularly critical of Facebook. “Mark Zuckerberg makes no apology for being one of the least responsible chief executives of our time,” he wrote in a book chapter with Steyer on the future of tech. It was re-published by Protocol last winter with the headline, “Why Section 230 hurts kids, and what to do about it.”
Some of Reed’s advocacy is unknown because he intentionally keeps a low profile that belies his influence in the Biden administration. In meetings when Reed is absent, Biden is known to ask versions of “Has Bruce signed off?” or “What does Bruce think?”
We’d like to know what Bruce thinks too, but when asked if Reed could speak for this story, deputy press secretary ANDREW BATES looped in RON KLAIN’s communications adviser, REMI YAMAMOTO, who then did not respond.
TOMORROW, TOMORROW — POLITICO is hosting its first ever tech summit Sept. 15th on the intersection of Washington and Silicon Valley, touching on issues like antitrust, online misinformation and data privacy. Register here to attend and submit questions. Alex will be co-moderating the “Rebooting Washington and Silicon Valley Relationship” panel with antitrust guru LEAH NYLEN.
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Internet regulations are as outdated as dial-up.
The internet has changed a lot in the last 25 years. That’s why Facebook supports updated internet regulations to address today’s toughest challenges, including:
– Combating foreign election interference
– Protecting people’s privacy
– Allowing people to safely transfer data between services
– Reforming Section 230
With the Partnership for Public Service
Which 1988 presidential candidate’s photoshoot atop a tank at General Dynamics facility in Sterling Heights, Michigan was regarded as the “worst photo op ever”?
(Answer at the bottom.)
COVID DISSENT — Yesterday, we reported that there have been clashes at the White House over their internal testing protocols. After we published, a White House official who we had not talked to for the story reached out and also expressed frustration with the status quo.
“I used to get tested at least once a week, and then they did away with it,” the official said. “It’s ridiculous that people are working in person, in close quarters, traveling for work, and a lot have unvaxed kids — and no option for testing even when they want to do the right thing.”
STREAM-GHAZI: Sen. JIM RISCH (R-Idaho) lent credence to a burgeoning right-wing conspiracy theory that the White House is intentionally pulling the plug on Biden’s audio feed to save him from himself.
While questioning Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN at Tuesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the senator repeatedly stated as an unequivocal fact that “somebody in the White House has the authority to press the button and … cut off the president’s speaking ability and sound,” and demanded to know who that was.
The inquiry drew a bemused chuckle from Blinken, who insisted the president speaks freely for himself. The White House, however, was unamused. “Senator Risch is cheapening this hearing by peddling baseless and bizarre conspiracy theories,” White House spokesman MIKE GWIN said in an email.
What Risch appears to be referring to is that the White House livestream of the president’s events cuts out when the public portion of Biden’s remarks are done and he doesn’t take questions from the press. That does not, however, prevent those in the room — participants and reporters alike — from hearing what Biden says and reporting it.
Several of the articles that have fueled this speculation cited last week’s West Wing Playbook but seemingly missed its central point, which is that Biden sometimes stresses staffers out ~because~ they are unable to keep him from going off script.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Ct.) penned an op-ed for the progressive Crooked Media titled, provocatively enough, “Why Biden’s Afghanistan Critics Are Dangerously Wrong.” In it Murphy rebuts many of the most common critiques of the Biden administration’s military drawdown in Afghanistan and argues it frees the U.S. to focus its energies elsewhere. White House officials shared the piece widely.
WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: The searing indictments of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by Murphy’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate during Blinken’s committee appearance today. Senate Foreign Relations Chair BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) went so far as to threaten to subpoena Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN and oppose Pentagon nominees until Austin appears on the Hill, as ANDREW DESIDERIO reports. The Pentagon said Austin had scheduling conflicts today but intends to testify before Congress later this month.
THE ART OF THE CAJOLE — Excerpts from BOB WOODWARD’s latest book, with ROBERT COSTA, started trickling out Tuesday. Much of the initial focus has been on Joint Chiefs Chairman MARK MILLEY’s maneuvering to deter any impulsive military actions in the waning days of the Trump administration.
But one Biden-related detail in this Washington Post write-up of the book caught our eye. In early March, Biden and Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.) talked on the phone to discuss the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, during which “the president reportedly told Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va), ‘if you don’t come along, you’re really f—ing me.’” The deal cleared Congress that week.
Asked to comment on the PG-13 line, White House spokesman Andrew Bates responded: “Hey, thank you for asking but we don’t have a comment.” Machin’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
IT’S NO 1961 FERRARI 250GT CALIFORNIA: Actor ALAN RUCK, best known for playing Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and, more recently, Connor Roy in HBO’s “Succession,” is one of the volunteers who helped to drive around reporters as part of the presidential motorcade in California. Credit to Fox News producer PAT WARD for recognizing him last night.
Tweet by Steve Holland | Twitter
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT — The Senate confirmed two Biden administration nominees today. JAMES KVAAL’s nomination to be undersecretary of Education was confirmed by the Senate, 58-37 and DAVID ESTUDILLO’s nomination to be a district judge in Washington was confirmed 54-41.
LOOSE CHANGE — We asked the White House the question everyone is dying to know the answer to: Is the administration considering minting a trillion-dollar coin to lift the debt limit? The Treasury Department has the authority to mint such platinum coins. But the White House said it’s a no-go.
“There is only one viable option to deal with the debt limit: Congress needs to increase or suspend it, as it has done approximately 80 times, including three times during the last Administration,” White House spokesperson Mike Gwin told LAURA BARRÓN-LÓPEZ.
Republicans are currently threatening to vote en masse against lifting the debt limit, despite having done so three times under Trump. Biden seems likely to tuck an increase into a government funding bill, which would require GOP votes in the Senate; but has a fall-back option of potentially pushing it through reconciliation, which could pass with support from all 50 Democratic senators.
Like his former boss, however, he could be forced to entertain some zany ideas if all else fails. In his final days in office, former President BARACK OBAMA told Pod Save America that he considered minting the coin during his own debt ceiling standoff, which he called the “scariest” moment of his presidency. “We were having these conversations with [then Treasury Secretary] JACK LEW and others about what options in fact were available, because it had never happened before,” Obama said. “There were all kinds of wacky ideas about how potentially you could have this massive coin.”
Bush, Clinton and Obama back group supporting Afghanistan evacuees (Reuters’ Mica Rosenberg and Susan Heavey)
Government relief pushed down poverty last year despite job losses (New York Times’ Ben Casselman and Jeanna Smialek)
However, inflation is beginning to erase wage gains for lower-wage workers. (Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Chaney Cambon and Gwynn Guilford)
Continuing on his multi-state trip out west. He flew to Denver and toured the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Flatirons Campus in Arvada, Colorado, then gave a speech promoting both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and his Build Back Better agenda. He was joined by Secretary of Energy JENNIFER GRANHOLM.
Aides travelling with the president included deputy chief of staff JEN O’MALLEY DILLON and Bruce Reed, director of oval office operations ANNIE TOMASINI, homeland security advisor LIZ SHERWOOD RANDALL, director of speechwriting VINAY REDDY, and deputy press secretary KARINE JEAN-PIERRE.
Biden is scheduled to fly back to D.C. later tonight.
She’s headlining a fundraiser tonight for TERRY McAULIFFE’s gubernatorial campaign in Great Falls, Virginia.
White House chief of staff RON KLAIN has yet to decorate his West Wing office, according to a Sept. 12 Business Insider profile on Klain.
Nearly nine months into the job, Klain’s office walls are still bare; the only semblance of decor is a framed photo of his family on his desk.
Transportation Secretary PETE BUTTIGIEG stopped by Klain’s office once, noted the lack of decor and “teased [Klain] that he needs to have more Hoosier artifacts in there, and I’m on the lookout for something that will actually fit the bill,” Buttigieg, a South Bend, Ind. native, recounted (Klain is from Indianapolis).
It’s not Indiana-related, but we’d suggest framing something like this, Pete!
MICHAEL DUKAKIS. In a 2013 POLITICO Magazine article, Josh King wrote that
“howls of laughter echoed through Bush headquarters in Washington,” regarding the photo op. Sorry Michael!
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Edited by Emily Cadei
Why Facebook supports reforming Section 230
The internet has changed a lot in the last 25 years—the last time comprehensive internet regulations were passed. There are more ways to share than ever before—and more challenges, too.
That’s why we support updating internet regulations—including reforming Section 230, to set standards for the way larger tech companies enforce rules about content.
Learn more about the steps we’ve taken and why we support updated internet regulations next.
CORRECTION: This newsletter entry has been updated to correct the spelling of Sheryl Sandberg’s first name.