“There are simply no more options,” said a GOP congressional assistant on the Monday before the inauguration day.
“I don’t think Trump has many options,” said Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, a right-wing political advocacy group. “Should he issue an executive order, it will simply be reversed … and that goes for Republicans too. You have no meaningful power right now. “
Responding to recent actions by tech companies remains the No. 3 priority for Republicans after clarifying their response to the riot on Capitol Hill and the struggle for impeachment, a second adviser to GOP Congress said. However, the aide said the party, traditionally opposed to regulatory burdens on businesses, lacks a clear consensus on how to move forward in the tech field.
“I don’t think anyone has banded together on any particular answer,” said the aide.
All of this leads to a major loss of influence for a party whose lawmakers have called in CEOs from Silicon Valley for numerous hearings in recent years – and for the president, whose agents filed two important antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook last fall. Washington’s power struggle with Silicon Valley is still very much alive, but the future Democratic Congress and President-elect Joe Biden will largely determine where he goes next.
One of the only possible regulatory options is the rule-setting announced by Trump in October that could limit legal protection for the online industry. However, the final meeting of the FCC in the Trump era will be on Wednesday, and Chairman Ajit Pai said last week that he had no plans to bring it up.
Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro made Pai’s decision. “Backbones in DC Swamp in short supply” he tweeted over the weekend.
Some of the critics of the big tech companies have pricked reprisals anyway. Parler filed an antitrust case on Monday against Amazon, which suspended the platform’s web hosting service for failing to moderate violent rhetoric among its users. Trump supporters called for a protest outside Twitter headquarters in San Francisco on Monday morning, despite local news saying so drew a scanty crowd. An Internet provider in Idaho blocked access to Twitter and Facebook to the what it called censorship.
Trump has hinted that he may have other tricks up his sleeve. On Friday night, when Twitter finally banned its personal and campaign accounts, it said in a White House statement that it is weighing a number of responses, including possibly setting up its own platform in the near future.
But for those Republicans whose reigns are going under in Washington, the main reaction has been to cry badly, and some have called on Congress or the executive to act.
“Amazon, Google and Apple’s decision to block their consumers from downloading or using Parler is dangerous,” tweeted Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.). “This apparent monopoly behavior is intended to end the debate and silence the conservatives.”
Barr added that he “urged the DOJ to investigate possible antitrust violations by these technology giants.”
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), One of the lawmakers who led the House’s bipartisan effort to update U.S. antitrust laws, said GOP officials should turn their anger on corporations’ business practices.
“Big tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have used their monopoly power to censor language.” he tweeted on Sunday. “Until Republicans understand that antitrust enforcement is the answer, these companies will continue to abuse their power.”
After Amazon announced the shutdown of Parler this weekend, Buck tweeted that he “will legislate at this convention to hold Amazon accountable for its anti-competitive behavior.”
Some Republicans have also stated that they plan to channel their anger into efforts to roll back or revamp a crucial legal liability cover for the online industry known as Section 230. This is the same law that Trump unsuccessfully called for the repeal of Congress last year, and a plea for it could not gain a foothold even in the GOP-controlled Senate.
“I’m more determined than ever to remove Big Tech (Twitter) protection from Section 230 to protect them from lawsuits,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Tweeted in response to Twitter’s ban on Trump.
But since the Democrats will lead these negotiations, GOP complaints about ideological bias will have much less sway. Instead, the Democrats’ anger at Silicon Valley is mainly driven by issues such as political falsehoods, hate speech and threats of violence online.
Trump’s own efforts to use executive powers to pound social media companies for alleged Conservative censorship have basically failed even before Republicans lost the White House and Senate.
The President signed an executive order in May calling on federal agencies to withdraw the legal protection of Section 230, which protects online platforms from complaints about content posted by their users and gives them ample leeway to remove it. But neither the FCC nor the Federal Trade Commission took significant action on this motion, and the Democrats in Congress opposed the idea of repealing the law.
“I think it needs to be overhauled, but you can’t lift it or you will destroy the protection for small businesses and entrepreneurs working their way up,” House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi said at a December press conference.
Trump’s calls for a complete repeal have also created confusion among some Congressional Republicans, according to an aide, as lawmakers on both parties have long pushed for the law to be changed but not repealed.
“The game book is totally torn,” said a GOP congressional assistant in Section 230.
The bias problem is also unlikely to make it into the spate of federal and state government antitrust cases that hit the tech giants – though Trump and Parler’s defenders say the decisions to take them offline are a clear example of silicon abuse are Dominant Valley.
For example, the antitrust case brought against Google by the Justice Department and 11 states in October did not contain allegations of ideological discrimination, despite the hopes of some Republicans. Meanwhile, attorneys general continued to investigate Google for antitrust concerns related to its Play Store – the same app store that Parler launched last week.
However, this multi-state investigation is bipartisan and is led by attorneys general from Utah, New York, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The states have tried to keep politically polluted aspects out of their antitrust complaints. The Democratic attorneys general are unlikely to endorse a lawsuit that makes Parler’s removal an important part of an antitrust proceeding against Google.
One thing that may have to happen before the GOP can really bring any consequences to the tech giants: Republicans must agree amongst themselves on how to approach corporate behavior, Bovard said, adding that the party has long been fragmented between factions .
“I think their base is honestly pissed off that they feel they have wasted four years on chest pounding, hearings and rhetoric, but no real action,” she said. “I think now is the time for Republicans to build their political positions. Once they return to a position of power, they will have a political agenda to implement.”
Leah Nylen contributed to this report.