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Trump, tech industry try to mend fences

NEW YORK — The bitter war between Donald Trump and the tech giants he regularly denigrated on the 2016 campaign trail appeared to reach something of a temporary cease-fire on Wednesday.

Months after publicly slamming Apple, Amazon, Facebook and their leaders, the president-elect invited tech executives to Trump Tower for a summit that Trump himself opened by extending an olive branch.

“There’s nobody like you in the world,” Trump said at the outset of a meeting. “There’s nobody like the people in this room. And anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to be there for you.”

The early promise of cooperation marked a dramatic departure from the 2016 campaign, when Trump called for a boycott of Apple because of its stance on privacy, pitted his aides against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a spat over immigration reform and accused Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos of using his ownership of The Washington Post as a tax-dodging “scam.” The e-commerce giant, Trump said at one point, would have “such problems” if he were elected.

When both sides met face-to-face on Wednesday, however, those insults seemed quickly forgotten, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting who described it as cordial. The executives in attendance urged Trump to address their industry’s need for high-skilled immigration, for example, and tackle regulatory barriers in places like China where tech companies sometimes struggle to sell their products and services.

Multiple sources said the tech executives talked about the government’s own use of technology and ways to improve it, as well as the clunky federal procurement process. Those issues are critical to companies that attended the meeting like Amazon, IBM, Oracle and Palantir, the data giant co-founded by venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who’s aiding the Trump’s transition. The president-elect promised to hold additional meetings with the tech industry in the future, the sources said.

Even Bezos, one of Trump’s targets, described it as “productive.”

“I shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere,” he said in a statement.

As the discussions began, details emerged about why Twitter — one of the major tech companies not represented at the meeting — was not there. The company was told it was “bounced” from the tech summit in retribution for refusing during the campaign to allow an emoji version of the hashtag #CrookedHillary, according to a source close to the situation. Trump adviser Sean Spicer later denied the report, telling MSNBC that “the conference table was only so big.”

Bezos arrived in New York City and sped into Trump Tower, flanked by aides, without speaking to reporters, as did Alphabet CEO Larry Page and the company’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz merely flashed a thumbs-up to reporters when asked how the gathering went. Apple CEO Tim Cook and SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk were due to hold separate meetings with Trump on Wednesday as well. None of the companies involved commented for this story.

Heading into Wednesday’s summit, it wasn’t lost on Silicon Valley that Trump had used the bully pulpit to put pressure on companies since winning the White House. This month alone, he’s tweeted criticism of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, causing their stock prices at least temporarily to drop. And months before he won, Trump vowed he was “going to get Apple to start making their computers and their iPhones on our land.”

To that end, IBM sought to offer an early concession to Trump before the meeting began: CEO Ginni Rometty announced a day before her arrival at Trump Tower that she would hire 25,000 new workers over the next four years, part of a package of initiatives that a company spokesman described to POLITICO as a “basis for engaging the incoming administration.” For the past year, however, IBM has been cutting positions worldwide.

Other companies began to link arms with Trump’s emerging government: His transition tapped Musk, who attended the meeting, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who was invited but couldn’t appear, to join Trump’s outside board of corporate advisers. Musk previously had been a public critic of Trump.

To many tech executives and lobbyists, at least initially, Trump’s election sealed Silicon Valley’s fate in Washington, where many industry leaders regularly had a receptive ear under President Barack Obama — and hoped to reprise that role with Clinton.

For the past eight years, Google has maintained close ties — and plenty of revolving-door employees — with the White House. Others, like Cook and Zuckerberg, frequently and directly challenged Obama on issues like surveillance and encryption. And Obama regularly tapped companies like IBM and Xerox for advice on how to improve trade, exports and other areas of the U.S. economy.

Unlike Obama, Trump doesn’t have those ties with Silicon Valley. He never articulated a policy platform for digital issues, as Clinton did during the 2016 campaign. On the issues he did discuss, like encryption, Trump often stood opposite companies like Apple, whose CEO Trump criticized for fighting the FBI in a key digital privacy case — and later threatened a boycott.

With Amazon, Trump’s target was Bezos himself because of his ownership of The Washington Post, which covered the president-elect critically. And his aides skewered Zuckerberg after the Facebook chief indirectly swiped at Trump’s comments about immigrants and support for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Trump’s rhetoric led Apple to withdraw from supporting the Republican convention that nominated Trump. Many tech leaders, like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, later criticized Trump as a “disaster” for innovation. Bezos questioned Trump’s fitness for office in multiple public settings, while Musk said before Election Day that Trump “is probably not the right guy” for the White House.

Months later, Trump and the tech industry have no choice but to reset that relationship.

“The election is the election; the campaign is the campaign,” said Michael Beckerman, the president of the Internet Association, in an interview before the meeting began. “Now we’re talking about governing the country, and it’s a different conversation and the tone is very different.”

The president-elect, who has promised to create jobs, may need to depend on one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy. Silicon Valley, meanwhile, relies on Washington’s blessings to turn their most audacious ideas — from self-driving cars to delivery drones — into reality. Trump’s early pledges on tax and infrastructure reform, meanwhile, long have been top-of-mind for tech companies like Apple, Alphabet and IBM.

With so much on the line, Silicon Valley seemed inclined to bury the hatchet — at least for now.

“It’s a meeting, it’s not a pledge initiation,” said Mark Cuban, a venture capitalist, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and longtime Clinton supporter, before the meeting. Asked whether tech should challenge Trump at the meeting, Cuban told POLITICO via email: “You don’t do that in a group meeting.”

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