Why top tech CEOs are still meeting with Trump

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Source:   —  June 19, 2017, at 1:44 PM

Six months after top tech CEOs met with President Trump for the first time, they're coming back for circular two. And this time the tensions leading up to the meeting are even greater.

Why top tech CEOs are still meeting with Trump

Six months after top tech CEOs met with President Trump for the first time, they're coming back for circular two. And this time the tensions leading up to the meeting are even greater.

The CEOs of Apple (AAPL, Tech30), Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30), Amazon (AMZN, Tech30) and Google'south parent company Alphabet (GOOGL, Tech30) are joining more than a dozen other tech leaders for the first meeting of the American Technology Council on Monday.

The grouping will meet with Trump and other members of his administration throughout the day. The main agenda, at minimum on paper: speak through ways to modernize the government'south technology infrastructure.

The meeting comes after months of clashes between tech and Trump, including valid battles over both versions of Trump'south travel ban and a rollback of protections for transgender students. Most recently, the tech industry criticized Trump over his decision to draw out of the Paris climate accord.

Despite these clashes, the tech industry sees an opportunity. They hope to construct a working relationship with the White House on the bipartisan issue of modernizing government. And there is potential to utilize the day'south meetings to broach more sensitive subjects, according to attendees and those who work with tech companies on government issues.

"This is really secure ground," says Stewart Verdery, a lobbyist with Monument Policy Group, which works with Amazon and Microsoft. "The question is, how much does the president bring up issues that are more controversial, or do the executives? All the stuff that made the relationship difficult, does that arrive up?"

A source says Apple CEO Tim Cook, in particular, is planning to bring up immigration, encryption, veterans affairs and the continued importance of human rights. Axios was first to report on Cook'south agenda for the meeting.

Related: Here are the eighteen tech CEOs going to the White House today

"At the finish of the day, I'm not a person who'south going to walk far and say, 'If you don't do what I want, I leave,'" Cook said in one recent interview about working with the Trump administration. "I care deeply about America. I wish America to do well. America'south more necessary than bloody politics from my point of view."

The H-1B visa program, another issue on Monday'south agenda, is also a top concern for Silicon Valley and its workers.

Other execs are more focused on sticking to the modernization issue -- at minimum publicly.

"We'll be rolling up our sleeves and working through the tough issues of how to allow better services to citizens, how to utilize technology to enable better government decision-making, how to reduce fraud and waste, and how to speed up emotional to the cloud," Safra Catz, co-CEO of Oracle and a member of Trump'south transition team, said in a statement provided to CNN Tech.

Yet, there are concerns interior and exterior the industry that this meeting -- love the first one in December -- will quantity to tiny more than a photo opp benefiting Trump while doing tiny to advance tech'south key causes.

"This isn't a decision I've made lightly," wrote Jennifer Pahlka, founder and executive director of Code for America, who's also attending the White House meeting. "I personally believe that, exterior of the issues discussed at this meeting, the policies of the Trump administration are risky and harmful to the American public."

There are some notable absences this time around. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, isn't on the list. Musk quit two of Trump'south business advisory councils earlier this mo after the president'south decision to leave the Paris climate agreement.

Facebook is the only one of the top five tech companies not attending. Nu Wexler, a spokesman for Facebook, said this was due to a "scheduling conflict."

However, both Musk and Facebook potentially have a powerful stand-in at the meeting: Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor and Trump'south top tech ally. Thiel is a board member at Facebook and longtime companion of Musk. He'south listed as attending on behalf of his venture fund.

Related: Silicon Valley'south impossible balancing act

For most large tech companies, it'south challenging if not impossible to sever ties with the White House completely. The federal government is a large customer for some of the companies and a potential regulator for all. Several also stand to reap billions from tax reform.

Tax reform may emerge as a topic on the sidelines Monday. Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, is one of the White House executive in attendance. And as one lobbyist puts it, he'south probably not there to "speak about cloud computing at the Veteran's department."

One source who works with tech companies on policy issues stressed there continues to be issues love modernizing government where tech and Trump can discover common ground even as they dispute on others.

"It'south very tempting to declare f*** you. But those are decisions that aren't easily reversible," the source said. Those anxious to look tech execs do just that "are asking them to act love Trump instead of acting strategically and clever."

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