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Kevin McCarthy’s Business Ties Complicate His Rise to Power

The House, divided.Credit…Michael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

Kevin McCarthy, Inc.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, is still working on landing the House speaker gig after six failed attempts. It’s the first such House floor showdown in a century, and business is at the heart of his woes.

Mr. McCarthy’s critics say he’s too friendly with Big Tech. The ultraconservatives who have stymied his rise to power list a number of big objections with Mr. McCarthy. They say that he isn’t sufficiently committed to right-wing causes and that he hasn’t pushed back enough against perceived anti-conservative bias on social media. Yet the would-be speaker published a policy proposal over the summer to “Stop the Bias and Check Big Tech” if Republicans took control of the House.

Mr. McCarthy’s messaging has not convinced hard-line party members. His hot-and-cold ties to Silicon Valley haven’t helped his standing either. Jeff Miller, a political adviser to Mr. McCarthy, also represents Apple and Amazon, and two former staff members are now Big Tech lobbyists. Meanwhile, Mr. McCarthy has benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in donations from tech companies and executives.

The Republican leader has also alienated onetime corporate allies. Lobbyists once bet big on Mr. McCarthy, but relations have soured somewhat after he embraced former President Donald Trump’s antagonistic approach to corporations with perceived ties to the left.

The Chamber of Commerce endorsed 23 Democrats for the House in 2020 and 15 won. That put the speakership out of reach for Mr. McCarthy at that time and he’s reportedly been sore since. The Republican pushed for Suzanne Clark, the Chamber’s C.E.O., to be removed but the organization was unmoved, and issued a statement in support of her.

Even before Mr. McCarthy’s failure this week, lobbyists were giving up on him and Washington insiders — including Paul Ryan, the former Republican House speaker now at the executive advisory firm Teneo — were telling executives to stay out of the political fray.

Meanwhile, the business of the government is stuck. Until Republicans resolve their internal conflicts, the House is at a standstill. Members have not been sworn in, administrative tasks and constituent services have been delayed and legislative work is on the back burner. Mr. McCarthy and his allies held talks with the holdouts last night to find a resolution. Democrats could step in to help (members of both parties have apparently discussed it), but that doesn’t appear to be on the table right now.

Mr. McCarthy has vowed to continue for as long as it takes. In 1923, it took nine ballots to elect a speaker. The House is scheduled to meet again at noon.

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

The Justice Department moves to seize Robinhood stock tied to Sam Bankman-Fried. Federal prosecutors argued on Wednesday that the $465 million worth of shares in the online brokerage weren’t part of the FTX bankruptcy estate. Bankman-Fried bought the shares through an investment vehicle with money borrowed from Alameda Research, FTX’s trading affiliate.

Walgreens will sell abortion pills. The pharmacy giant said it would dispense mifepristone, becoming the first national chain to do so after the F.D.A. announced new rules for dispensing the drug. CVS and Rite Aid said they were still reviewing the agency’s new policy.

What to Know About the Collapse of FTX

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What is FTX? FTX is a now bankrupt company that was one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges. It enabled customers to trade digital currencies for other digital currencies or traditional money; it also had a native cryptocurrency known as FTT. The company, based in the Bahamas, built its business on risky trading options that are not legal in the United States.

Who is Sam Bankman-Fried? He is the 30-year-old founder of FTX and the former chief executive of FTX. Once a golden boy of the crypto industry, he was a major donor to the Democratic Party and known for his commitment to effective altruism, a charitable movement that urges adherents to give away their wealth in efficient and logical ways.

How did FTX’s troubles begin? Last year, Changpeng Zhao, the chief executive of Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, sold the stake he held in FTX back to Mr. Bankman-Fried, receiving a number of FTT tokens in exchange. In November, Mr. Zhao said he would sell the tokens and expressed concerns about FTX’s financial stability. The move, which drove down the price of FTT, spooked investors.

What led to FTX’s collapse? Mr. Zhao’s announcement drove down the price and spooked investors. Traders rushed to withdraw from FTX, causing the company to have a $8 billion shortfall. Binance, FTX’s main rival, offered a loan to save the company but later pulled out, forcing FTX to file for bankruptcy on Nov. 11.

Why was Mr. Bankman-Fried arrested? FTX’s collapse kicked off investigations by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission focused on whether FTX improperly used customer funds to prop up Alameda Research, a crypto trading platform that Mr. Bankman-Fried had helped start. On Dec. 12, Mr. Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas for lying to investors and committing fraud. The day after, the S.E.C. also filed civil fraud charges.

China defends its handling of the Covid outbreak. Facing criticism from the World Health Organization and President Biden over the accuracy of its coronavirus tally, Beijing fired back on Thursday, saying the situation was “controllable.” It also plans to reopen its border with Hong Kong on Sunday after a three-year closure.

The man behind the college admissions scandal is sentenced. Rick Singer, whom prosecutors accused of orchestrating a $25 million cheating scheme that involved actors, business executives, doctors and more, must serve three and a half years in prison. Singer, who had become an informant, received the longest sentence of anyone tied to the scandal.

CES kicks off today. Enormous crowds are expected to return to the tech trade show in Las Vegas this year, after the pandemic clamped down on in-person attendance. Expect plenty of announcements about new televisions, smart-home gadgets, electric cars and more.

The bleeding continues at Big Tech

Amazon said on Wednesday that it would drastically expand its planned layoffs to a staggering 18,000 jobs as it seeks to rein in costs. Coupled with Salesforce’s plans to lay off about 8,000 employees, it’s the latest sign that tech giants are still grappling with the consequences of overhiring during the pandemic boom.

Amazon’s cuts amount to around 6 percent of its corporate work force and will be focused on human resources and what the e-commerce giant calls its Stores division: its main online site, its field operations and warehouses, its physical stores and other consumer teams. (Hourly warehouse workers aren’t part of the tally.) That’s up from the roughly 10,000 the company had been weighing earlier.

Salesforce is also laying off 10 percent of its employees and cutting back on office space. The move comes after a series of shake-ups at the business software giant, including the announced departures of Bret Taylor, its co-C.E.O. (reportedly after strains in his relationship with Marc Benioff, the company’s co-founder) and Stewart Butterfield, the C.E.O. of Slack, the messaging app Salesforce bought for nearly $28 billion.

It’s a notable retrenchment for Salesforce, whose reputation over the past decade has become one of ever-growing ambition: The company is the largest private employer in San Francisco, and its flagship office tower is the city’s tallest.

Both rounds of layoffs arose out of overexpansion. Amazon more than doubled its work force during the pandemic, to 1.5 million, as it became an indispensable seller to locked-down households. Salesforce nearly doubled its head count over the past three years, to 80,000 in October.

Those hiring sprees have since run into a slowing global economy, with Amazon having warned in the fall that it could see its worst growth rate since 2001. “We hired too many people leading into this economic downturn we’re now facing, and I take responsibility for that,” Benioff wrote in a letter to employees.

The Aftermath of FTX’s Downfall

The sudden collapse of the crypto exchange has left the industry stunned.

  • A Spectacular Rise and Fall: Who is Sam Bankman-Fried and how did he become the face of crypto? “The Daily” charted the spectacular rise and fall of the man behind FTX.
  • How FTX Operated: FTX called itself an exchange. But it was vastly different from stock exchanges, which are highly regulated and barred from engaging in many of the activities that the crypto company pursued. 
  • Bankman-Fried’s Bail Negotiations: Intense legal wrangling led to the disgraced crypto mogul paying virtually nothing to live with his parents ahead of his upcoming trial.
  • Ryan Salame: The former FTX executive, who told regulators about wrongdoing at the exchange and was a big Republican donor, has emerged as a central player in the scandal.

Amazon and Salesforce aren’t alone: Meta recently laid off 13 percent of its work force, while Snap and Twitter have also resorted to huge job cuts. Overall, the tech industry laid off over 153,000 workers last year, according to Layoffs.fyi. Things may not get better this year, with analysts cautioning that tech companies’ customers may further clamp down on spending, potentially leading to yet more cost cuts.


“The parallels with Russia and Ukraine are hard to ignore. We must not make the same mistakes with Xi Jinping that we did with Vladimir Putin.”

— Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former secretary general of NATO, urged a robust and unified response to deter China from attacking Taiwan. His comments, made during a visit to Taipei, highlighted worries in Europe over China’s growing assertiveness in Asia.


The Fed’s big challenge: exuberant markets

Investors got the post-Christmas “Santa Claus rally” they were hoping for, a buying spree that was fueled in part by slumping energy prices. But the big cloud hanging over markets remains: the prospect that central banks will be emboldened to tame inflation with more interest rate increases.

Fed officials gave investors an unambiguous warning on Wednesday: Don’t start pricing in a dovish pivot anytime soon. Many on Wall Street are banking on the U.S. central bank to end its policy of jumbo rate increases in the first half of 2023, and to begin cutting by year-end.

But the Fed sees any pivot prediction as misguided, warning that such thinking could complicate its efforts to bring prices under control. Minutes from a December Fed meeting released on Wednesday, did not mince its words. “No participants anticipated that it would be appropriate” to cut rates.

As the Times’s Jeanna Smialek reported, policymakers are concerned that markets might misinterpret any decision to slow the pace of rate moves in the near term as a sign that the Fed believed it was making enough progress in bringing inflation closer to its 2 percent target. (The I.M.F. has also weighed in, saying that it doesn’t believe the U.S. has “turned the corner on inflation yet” and that the Fed should “stay the course.”)

The markets still don’t seem to be getting the message. “Right now data signals are mixed — like an ink blot, investors can see what they want,” Elsa Lignos, RBC Capital Market’sglobal head of FX Strategy, said in a note to clients this morning. She pointed out that manufacturing prices were in decline, but that job vacancies remained elevated, suggesting wages could continue creeping higher.

A late-afternoon surge on Wednesday helped the S&P 500 and Nasdaq close higher. Between the Dec. 27 open and Wednesday’s close, the S&P 500 rose 0.8 percent, capping off the seventh consecutive annual Santa rally, measured by the stock market’s performance over the seven trading days that follow Christmas. The most bullish on Wall Street see such rallies as a sign that investors will keep buying well into the new year.

Investors and Fed officials will be closely watching Friday’s jobs report. The Fed is concerned that the labor market is still too tight, belying the recent headline-grabbing layoffs at tech giants. A jobs report showing big gains in wages and hiring could force the Fed to remain locked in to its “higher for longer” rates policy, adding to additional market volatility.

THE SPEED READ

Deals

  • Shares in GE HealthCare Technologies rose 8 percent in their debut on Wednesday, after being spun off from General Electric. (Bloomberg)

  • Western Digital has reportedly resumed talks to buy Kioxia, a Japanese memory chip maker. (Bloomberg)

  • A unit of Tokyo Gas is said to be in advanced talks to buy the U.S. natural gas producer Rockcliff Energy for about $4.6 billion. (Reuters)

  • Fanatics reportedly plans to divest its 60 percent stake in Candy Digital, a sports N.F.T. company. (CNBC)

Policy

  • European regulators fined Meta 390 million euros after finding it had illegally forced users to effectively accept personalized ads. (NYT)

  • The S.E.C. has objected to Binance.US’s $1 billion bid to purchase the bankrupt crypto lender Voyager Digital. (Reuters)

  • Silvergate, a bank, was forced to sell assets at a steep loss to cover $8.1 billion in customer withdrawals after the collapse in November of FTX. (WSJ)

Best of the rest

  • A self-described Tesla fan filed a Tesla trademark for a boat and jet without the company’s knowledge. (Bloomberg)

  • Amazon, SiriusXM and Spotify are cutting back on their spending on new podcasts. (Bloomberg)

  • The stars of the 1968 film “Romeo and Juliet” sued the movie’s distributor, Paramount, for $500 million over being made to film a nude scene while they were teens. (NYT)

  • A Princeton student said he had created a program to detect whether an essay was written by the A.I. chatbot ChatGPT. Meanwhile, New York City’s education department banned the use of ChatGPT on some city devices and internet networks. (Insider, Chalkbeat New York)

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