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Rep. Pramila Jayapal on Big Tech break-up: ‘Self regulation doesn’t work’

Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss the latest on Big Tech as House Lawmakers urge for restructuring among Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to bring in our next guest, Congressman Pramila Jayapal, because we have a lot to chat about here with you, congresswoman. So I want to start on stimulus. We have a lot of flip flopping from the White House.

So I guess I'm just going to put it to you directly the questions that I know a lot of Americans are thinking. When can we expect some sort of economic relief?

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, I think it is absolutely outrageous that in a tweet, Donald Trump ends negotiations when, just today, we found out that one million-- almost a million Americans filed new unemployment claims, first time unemployment claims this past week.

The reality is, people are hurting. People need to know that they're going to be able to continue to collect their unemployment. Our state and local governments are hurting because they're dealing with an increase in cases, Kristin. 25 cases that have seen in-- 25 states that have seen increased cases, only two are declining.

So we're seeing, you know, increasing COVID cases across the country. Over 7 million people in America now have had this virus. And over 210,000 people are dead. And yet, the Trump White House is telling everyone not to worry.

And they're refusing to move forward on critical negotiations to get relief to individuals, to businesses, to state and local governments, and for people to get the kind of testing and contact tracing that must happen as we deal with the impacts of this deadly virus.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now congresswoman, you did vote no on the HEROES Act back in May because it was too small. However, you did vote for this one, this most recent package, that $2.2 trillion package from the Democrats.

Wondering if there is a Democratic appetite to even consider a smaller package, if you would even consider a smaller package, which is what Republicans have been pushing for. They do not agree with Democrats on the big headline figure.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, they're just wrong. And the reason, by the way, that I voted no on the first HEROES Act was not because I thought it was too small in terms of the dollar amount. It was because I felt that we needed to have a solution similar to my Paycheck Recovery Act proposal that would have continued even until we got to certain economic thresholds, like unemployment down to a certain level. I worked with Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's, on that proposal, with Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist.

But this is not a question of bringing the number down. We already brought the number down by $1.2 trillion. And yet, the White House has refused to even move and budge from their number that was under a trillion dollars with enormous tax breaks going to the wealthiest.

The one thing that we know is that the wealthy have done quite well through this pandemic. What the people who have not done well are middle class Americans, working Americans, the most vulnerable and poor folks at the bottom, Black and brown workers who are on the front lines, who don't have what they need to even be able to do those jobs.

And this is the real crisis that we're in. And the fact that the White House continues to act like nothing is happening and we don't need the assistance, when Federal Reserve Chair Powell has said if we don't quickly do something that is expansive and bold relief, the economy will not be able to recover for an even longer time. And we will end up paying far more than anything that we put in right now.

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to turn now to tech. Obviously, some hearings on the Hill to break up some of those big tech companies. And lawmakers have previously been heavily criticized as, frankly, misunderstanding how some of these tech companies even work. The hearing with Facebook, of course, famously comes to mind.

I'm wondering if-- as you look at it, if Congress is appropriately equipped with the tools that it currently has to effectively regulate big tech. We've seen a lot of regulation agencies, frankly, being called toothless to go up against big tech.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Yes, I think that was the purpose of our very in-depth, one-year investigation, actually 16-month investigation, into the four major tech platforms. Tens of thousands of documents produced from each of the companies' hearings, briefings, interviews, including with some who were afraid to speak out because of retaliation from the platforms.

And I think that the 400-page report that we just issued on the committee is a critical roadmap to what Congress must do to reassert its authority, to rein in anti-competitive behavior, to strengthen antitrust laws, so that we clarify the anti-monopoly purpose of those antitrust laws, and that, ultimately, you know, make significant changes legislatively so that we can prevent that anti-competitive behavior and allow competition and innovation to thrive.

The lesson here is, self-regulation doesn't work. And the unfortunate people who have been hurt the most are small businesses and workers, American consumers who have really been hurt by monopoly and anti-competitive behavior.

KRISTIN MYERS: You know, I was reading an article a little bit earlier that raised some arguments that pushed back on breaking up big tech, namely that this is, frankly, a nuclear option and that, instead, Congress could perhaps go directly to some of the issues that some of these big companies, these big tech companies, face.

For example, you talk about how Amazon accesses independent seller data to advance their own core businesses. Couldn't Congress, instead of taking that nuclear option of breaking up these companies, instead go to the heart of some of those anti-competitive practices that these companies are doing and, instead, legislate around that?

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, actually, the report does not-- it does not go to the point of saying break up these companies. It talks about structural separation of lines of business so that you wouldn't have a company be able to both dominate the platform and compete on that platform and have different sets of rules by which they operate than by which their competitors operate.

We talk about a number of different recommendations that could address pieces of the problem. So this is not a singular solution of just break everybody up. It is a set of recommendations that now we have to get to the hard work of legislating and actually put-- you know, figuring out which things we're going to move forward.

But it is a very comprehensive set of recommendations that includes strengthening antitrust laws, reasserting exactly what those antitrust laws mean, clarifying that harm is not just limited to price, making sure that we address the structural separation so a company like Amazon can't just put, you know, a business, a small business that produces diapers, out of business by taking all of that market information that nobody else has access to and using it to subsidize losses and push small companies out.

And I think, Kristin, we just have to look at the success of what happened when Microsoft, which has-- I have many Microsoft employees right here in my district-- you know, was part of an antitrust investigation, had to really, out of that, change its culture, change its lines of business. And Microsoft themselves will argue that it really created the platform for other small companies to thrive.

At the end of the day, we want more Amazons, more Googles, more Facebooks, more Apples. And when you have this kind of dominance and monopoly power, that's just not possible. And you really harm small businesses and innovation.

KRISTIN MYERS: Congresswoman, speaking of your district, not just home to Microsoft employees, but also Amazon located in your district, I know that you've met with Jeff Bezos, at least virtually, when it comes to these hearings. But wondering if you had a chance, perhaps, to sit down with him and talk about his business practices. And what has the result of those conversations been, if you've had them?

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I've had an open door policy to speaking with Mr. Bezos and have invited that many times. I have not been to do that with him. So that is, obviously, up to him. We have met with many Amazon senior managers and officials.

I continue to be very open. We're proud of the fact that Amazon was born right here in Seattle. Thousands of my constituents work for Amazon. This isn't about the workers doing something bad. It's not even about the company doing-- you know, being all bad. You have to be able to look at both the benefits that a company like Amazon provides. And certainly, in the pandemic, that's true.

But also look at the regulation that's required so that you prevent anti-competitive, anti-monopoly behavior. And I think that's what I've tried to stress to Mr. Bezos, to others, that, ultimately, at the end of the day, let's look at this as something that is really going to help all of us.

And perhaps, in retrospect, Amazon, after we've regulated them, after we've put through some of the recommendations that are in the report, we'll look back and say, you know what? It's a good thing that that happened because it allowed other small businesses to thrive and other innovation to thrive.

That's what's happened with Microsoft. I call them, you know, the adults in the room, in some ways, on this issue. And I hope that that's how Amazon will see it as well. Because it is critical that we take on this kind of behavior and we make sure that no company, as I said to Mr. Zuckerberg during the hearings, no company should be too big to care, too big to respond, too big to take on many of the problems that we're seeing with these tech companies today.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, well, we will have to leave that there. Congressman Pramila Jayapal from Seattle, Washington, thank you so much for joining us today.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Thank you, Kristin.