Amazon shrugs off Trump's tweets

- April 04, 2018

Amazon’s response to President Donald Trump’s tweets: ignore him.

The online retail giant has been lying low since Trump heightened his attacks this past week, feeling disinclined to respond to what the company views as the president’s personal vendetta against one of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ other properties, The Washington Post, people familiar with Amazon’s strategy said.

“They’re operating as if there isn’t tweeting going on,” a Republican lobbyist close to Amazon said. “The Amazon corporate mentality is that this is more about the Post and Bezos as a person than the company, and Amazon can’t do a lot about what The Washington Post does.”

Amazon has been known to push back aggressively against damaging news coverage. When The New York Times in 2015 published a critical report about its work culture, a top official took to TV and wrote a 1,300 word essay critiquing the story.


But so far, the public response to Trump’s tweets has been mostly silence.

“We have not commented on this so far, as you know,” said Amazon spokeswoman Jill Kerr, declining a POLITICO request to speak with a top official in Washington. “I will certainly let you know if we change our approach.”

Multiple Hill offices that have worked with Amazon in the past told POLITICO they had not heard from the company about the tweets.

And Amazon lobbyists have continued to engage with the administration as usual, even as Trump vented about the company. Amazon continues to talk with the White House about initiatives designed to help military spouses and wounded veterans find work, according to a person familiar with Amazon's lobbying who wasn’t authorized to discuss it.

"From my perspective, there's been no appreciable change in their strategy," the person said.

Trump has been known to rage against companies and their leaders on Twitter. Since the election, the president has bashed the likes of General Motors, Toyota, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Merck and the National Football League.

He has complained most recently that Amazon takes advantage of discounted rates from the U.S. Postal Service, which he said hurt the mail agency, though package delivery has become one of the more lucrative parts of the USPS’ business. (The company did contact reporters at some media outlets to push back on that particular claim, one lobbyist told POLITICO.)


But Trump’s frustration has long seemed aimed primarily at The Washington Post’s news coverage. Trump incorrectly suggests the newspaper is part of the same company as Amazon, going so far as to recently suggest it should register as a company lobbyist.

That means Amazon can’t follow the playbook other companies have employed when they drew his ire. When Trump bashed Lockheed Martin on Twitter during the transition, the company responded by promising to add jobs at a Texas plant and pledging to cut the cost of its F-35 fighter.

In other ways, though, Amazon is well positioned to weather Trump's attacks.

The company is a formidable presence in Washington, with 28 registered lobbyists on staff and several top firms on retainer. Amazon spent $12.8 million on Washington lobbying last year — more than five times what it spent five years ago — and its in-house lobbyists worked almost every corner of the federal government, according to disclosure filings, lobbying 30 federal agencies, Congress and the White House.

Administration staffers have continued to meet with Amazon lobbyists in recent weeks “irrespective of tweets,” according to a lobbyist familiar with Amazon’s strategy.

No members of Congress have joined Trump in denouncing Amazon in recent days, perhaps in part because Amazon employs people in many of their districts. With its network of warehouses and distribution centers, Amazon counts employees in 46 states. An Amazon reception last year for members of Congress with Amazon jobs in their districts drew more than 20 lawmakers.

Any presidential effort to take action against Amazon could also backfire with the company's millions of customers.

Those customers include "voters of both parties in every state," Michael Beckerman, the president and chief executive of the Internet Association, a Washington trade group that counts Amazon among its members, said in a statement. Amazon's "low prices and free shipping unite Republicans and Democrats, living in red states and blue states."

Though Trump’s recent tweets caused Amazon’s stock price to tumble, the company’s investment in Washington seems to have paid off overall. Despite concerns from some progressives about its size, Amazon’s growth has remained largely unchecked by lawmakers or regulators. Even as other tech giants such as Facebook and Google are hammered on data privacy, Amazon has managed to avoid the brunt of Washington’s attention.

And like other big businesses, Amazon benefits from corporate tax reform that Trump and congressional Republicans pushed through late last year. The company has also engaged directly with the White House on initiatives to expand cloud computing and ease drone regulations — both of which could be a boon to its business.

Last year, Amazon donated $50 million to a White House effort spearheaded by the president’s daughter and special adviser Ivanka Trump to promote computer-science education.


“It’s somewhat unfortunate that there’s this side show going on,” the Republican lobbyist who is close to the company said. “The agendas are generally well-aligned.”

Blain Rethmeier, a public relations manager and former Bush administration official, said there’s not much advantage for Amazon in fighting Trump publicly.

“Any sort of public spat with the president, be it on Twitter, in the media, whatever it might be, is a losing proposition,” Rethmeier said. “Any sort of criticism of the president will be met with a direct and probably more forceful response.”

Instead, he said, Amazon should quietly look for concessions to appease the president: “The longer this drags on in a public forum, I think, the worse off Amazon is.”


 

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