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Biden has the perfect new enemy: Jeff Bezos

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Close-up photos of Jeff Bezos and President Joe Biden side by side
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos; President Joe BidenCliff Owen, File/Associated Press; Susan Walsh/Associated Press
  • The White House and Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos have been trading barbs on Twitter.

  • Bezos has criticized Biden's handling of inflation. Biden blames the rich.

  • The duel could help Biden by turning voters' ire on billionaires as he tries to fix the economy.

The most powerful man in the world and one of the richest people on Earth are in a Twitter spat.

Jeff Bezos, founder and chairman of online retail giant Amazon, lashed out at President Joe Biden on Monday after the White House issued a tweet that blamed billionaires for skyrocketing inflation.

The feud comes as Biden struggles to find a solution to the country's runaway inflation in a midterm election year where voters are blaming him for the high cost of living. Vulnerable Democrats have tried to cast the blame on wealthy billionaires and corporations, and Bezos appears to have given them an opportunity to name names.

The two parties spent Monday going back and forth, through tweets and press statements, arguing about the role billionaires play in the US' economic climate and who is responsible for Americans' current financial woes.

The episode signals a newer, more combative relationship between the White House and Bezos, who had heralded Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris' victory in the 2020 election.

The moment could benefit Biden, Democratic insiders say, as it gives the president a high profile opponent who's extremely unpopular with the progressive wing of the party.

"Americans are angry right now," said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Committee. He added that, "there is no greater political villain and punching bag than a billionaire who has never paid taxes on his billions as families struggle to pay for child care, rent, education, and health care."

A ProPublica investigation found that Bezos had managed to not pay federal income taxes in 2006 and 2011, and in other years had managed to reduce his tax burden significantly despite his extreme wealth.

Brad Bannon, a pollster for Democrats, progressive issue groups and labor unions, called Bezos "a formidable enemy as the publisher of the Washington Post and one of the wealthiest people in America." But he said it's a "bold move" and a "good fight for the President."

One of the few things the American left and right can agree on is the benefit of using Amazon and its CEO as a political cudgel. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly lashed out at Bezos because of his ownership of the Washington Post, which published in-depth reporting on the Trump administration's many dysfunctions as well as nefarious business dealings.

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House in 2021/AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Biden, a centrist, appears more willing to agree with liberals in his party, which calls for higher taxes on billionaires like Bezos and supports unionization efforts at companies like Amazon.

Bannon said Biden "needs to be aggressive against inflation, and picking a fight against a mega-rich guy and a poster child for corporate greed is a great way to go."

Attacking Bezos allows Democrats to highlight voters' concerns that Republicans are "beholden to wealthy special interests" that don't care about the financial plight of "ordinary Americans, Bannon added.

Democratic strategist and former Sen. Bernie Sanders advisor Chuck Rocha said he sees an advantage in the president taking on Bezos.

"Anytime Biden is standing up to the rich and wealthy, it's good!"

At a White House briefing on Monday, newly minted press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre cast Bezos as a wealthy foil to Biden's middle class agenda.

"It's not a huge mystery, why one of the wealthiest individuals on Earth opposes an economic agenda that is for the middle class, that cuts some of the biggest costs families face," she said.

A downside to going after Bezos

"The downside of going after Bezos is he has the media platform and the money to influence public opinion against President Biden," Bannon added. "Biden might get on the wrong side of the generally liberal Washington Post which often gives Democrats political cover."

The Washington Post's newsroom leadership has repeatedly said Bezos does not influence their coverage, and the newspaper has been aggressive in its accountability reporting on Amazon and Blue Origin, another of Bezos' companies.

Kristen Hawn, a strategist and former communications director for the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate House Democrats, said Bezos isn't wrong about the debt and deficit.

"But both parties are at fault for that over multiple administrations and congresses," she wrote in an email. "Generally speaking, right now is the time for business and government to come together post-pandemic to address the issues workers are facing in the current economy. It doesn't help anyone for the public and private sectors to be at war."

A spokesperson for Amazon did not respond to Insider's request for comment.

Jeff Bezos COP26 UN climate conference
Jeff Bezos speaking at the COP26 UN climate conference.Paul Ellis - Pool/Getty

'Look, a squirrel!'

Bezos and the Biden team have traded blows for more than 24 hours over who's to blame for US economic problems. The Amazon CEO first took issue with a Biden administration tweet, which boasted the administration was lowering the federal deficit, thereby easing inflation.

That critique drew a rebuke from White House spokesman Andrew Bates, who told the Washington Post that "it doesn't require a huge leap to figure out why one of the wealthiest individuals on Earth opposes an economic agenda for the middle class that cuts some of the biggest costs families face." Bates also implied that Bezos was angry at the White House for hosting Amazon warehouse employees who wanted to unionize.

By Monday afternoon, Bezos was on the offense.

"Look, a squirrel!" Bezos tweeted along with a screenshot of Bates' quote. "They understandably want to muddy the topic. They know inflation hurts the neediest the most. But unions aren't causing inflation and neither are wealthy people."

Asked for comment, Bates pointed to a thread he posted on Twitter, citing Amazon's support in 2021 for federal investments to lower emissions, Biden's meeting this month with the Amazon labor union leader and economist Larry Summers' statement, calling Bezos "mostly wrong."

Read the original article on Business Insider