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Tech Leaders To Meet With President-Elect Trump

For the most part, the tech industry did not support President-elect Trump. But he won, and now Trump is convening a technology summit this afternoon in New York City, and expects Silicon Valley leaders will be there.

One of the industry's luminaries — Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft — was already at Trump Tower Tuesday. He seemed to suggest Trump and the industry will reach an accommodation.

Gates offered this example: President-elect Trump is not sold on climate change. Gates — the co-chair of a new billion-dollar investment fund for clean energy — is. On CNBC Tuesday morning, Gates made it sound like that disagreement is a minor detail because, he said, "This administration likes a good deal."

Deal. Key word!

Even if Trump doubts the science, Gates believes the president-elect could be convinced to throw federal money at companies pursing green technology — if that would create jobs.

On China, despite every threat Trump has made regarding trade, Gates used that word — deal — again: "Well, I don't think it would be a good deal to have trade relations between China and the U.S. really fall apart."

Gates said Trump was elected for his leadership style — not policy positions — and those positions can change.

In his post-meeting remarks Gates threw in a little flattery, making this comment about Trump's Twitter style: "Yeah, he tweets more than I do. I'm impressed. You know, I come from the tech industry and I just can't keep up."

It's important to contrast Gates' voice — the tech titan pragmatist/optimist — with the voice of Microsoft's current chief. Or rather, his silence. Microsoft would not confirm if CEO Satya Nadella is attending the summit. Other CEOs have been equally cagey. The Trump transition team says they may release a list of attendees after the meeting.

Gary Shapiro, head of the trade group Consumer Technology Association, will not be on that list. He's not boycotting. "Sadly I did not get my invitation," he says.

"Sadly," because he's "thrilled" about the meeting. He thinks Trump will be better than President Obama on business issues.

Shapiro offers a long list of possible industry wins under Trump: a holiday on cash repatriation (so tech companies can bring back their stockpiles of overseas money without a big tax bill); a lower corporate tax rate; aggressive moves to push back on Chinese and European protectionism; and even immigration — for so-called high-skilled, Ph.D. types.

"President Obama and the Democrats said they wanted to do that, but they always tied it into overall immigration reform — which as Steve Jobs said on his death bed, that will kill it," he says. "And that's what indeed has happened the last seven years. No action on immigration, and Trump can get action on immigration."

There's another place Trump could get action, which CEOs might not like: bringing tech manufacturing back to the U.S., where it's more expensive.

China tells U.S. companies, if they want to sell there, they have to manufacture there. Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, says Trump could pressure the Chinese government to drop that rule, and shame U.S. tech companies for bowing to it.

"You get rid of those policies, you will have more semi-conductor jobs in the U.S., in places like Boise, Idaho, in places like New Mexico and Arizona and Oregon. Trump could do that," Atkinson says.

The summit is being organized by Peter Thiel, an early Trump backer who's also on the board of Facebook. While CEOs may be meeting with the president-elect, hundreds of their employees have signed a statement, called neveragain.tech, pledging to not build databases that could be used for racial profiling of Muslims and other minorities.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.
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