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The first 100 days of the Trump White House left Silicon Valley scratching its head

Despite battles over immigration, science and net neutrality, some in tech see reason for hope.

Trump Holds Summit With Technology Industry Leaders Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

They went around the room that day in December, introducing themselves one by one.

“Tim Cook, very good to be here,” said the Apple chief executive. “And I look very forward to talking to the president-elect about the things that we can do to help you achieve some things you want.”

Then came Safra Catz, the CEO of Oracle, who stressed she was “looking forward to helping you, and your administration.”

The leaders of companies like IBM, Microsoft and Cisco similarly introduced themselves, and Jeff Bezos even tried to sound a note of optimism.

“I’m super excited about the possibility that this could be the innovations administration,” said the Amazon chief.

The comment to help open Donald Trump’s so-called “tech summit” — a reconciliation of sorts, held in New York City — seemed startling at the time. Months earlier, after all, Trump had threatened Amazon explicitly on the campaign trail, taking aim at Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, in an interview with Sean Hannity. Trump said the Amazon founder might have a “huge antitrust problem” under a potential President Trump.

About 100 days into his White House tenure, Amazon isn’t grappling with some Washington, D.C.-driven political witch hunt. But “problem” remains a delicate description for Silicon Valley’s still-evolving, precarious relationship with a new administration that has cracked down on immigration, proposed dramatic cuts to government science funding and sought to scrap the industry’s much-loved policies, like net neutrality.

And still, many in tech insist it’s not all bad.

“I don’t have the impression — and yes, there were some things said on the campaign trail ... that this is an administration that has or wants to have an unhappy relationship with tech,” said Victoria Espinel, the CEO of BSA | The Software Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group for the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and others.

Espinel served as a top trade official under Obama, who by comparison had an “unusually high interest in tech,” she said. With Trump, though, Espinel added “there’s been a lot of openness to having that discussion, and learning more about tech and what it means for the economy, and what it means for jobs.”

Months after his Trump Tower summit, the new GOP president has raced to make good on his myriad campaign promises — and, in the process, antagonized a major sector of the U.S. economy.

His executive order banning immigrants from Muslim-majority countries drew a legal challenge backed by the likes of Apple, Facebook, Google and others in briefs filed in federal court.

His subsequent crackdown on the country’s high-skilled immigration program, the H-1B system, also left many in the tech industry uneasy. And Trump’s Justice Department similarly infuriated Valley types after it unraveled Obama-era protections for transgender students using restrooms of their choice.

Meanwhile, Trump’s first weeks in office have galvanized tech engineers, who vigorously protested the president — and in some cases turned their fire on executives like Uber CEO Travis Kalanick — to get them to strike more forcefully at the White House.

It isn’t all opposition, however. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and other major tech companies that long have tried to overhaul the U.S. tax code have found a president who’s willing to grant them a few wishes. Trump’s tax plan is but a page — and it’s already politically imperiled in Congress — but it still backed a one-time tax break for businesses that bring back billions of dollars from overseas.

So too have the nation’s tech titans gained a few allies in government.

After running a campaign that eschewed much mention of the industry’s issues, Trump’s presidential transition team consulted the likes of Catz, the Oracle CEO, and Peter Thiel, the Valley venture capitalist who shocked his peers with an endorsement during the race.

Gary Cohn, who joined the White House as a top economic adviser, is a familiar face for companies like Uber, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and closest confidante, is a business leader who has connected in recent months with Apple’s Cook and Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Those and other executives continue to work with Kushner as he stands up his new Office of American Innovation, a still-nebulous project that ostensibly aims to modernize government. The office has already hired the likes of Matt Lira, a Capitol Hill veteran with digital expertise, to tackle issues like improving the country’s veterans’ agency.

Still, many of the government’s other, most prominent technology policy positions remain unfilled. At the White House, there is still no director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, nor has Trump tapped a chief technology officer. (Interviews appear to be ongoing.) By comparison, Obama announced plans to nominate his science adviser, Dr. John Holdren, in December 2008, before he was sworn in, and he tapped Aneesh Chopra as his first CTO on April 18, 2009.

At the Federal Communications Commission, Trump selected a sitting commissioner, Ajit Pai, to serve as the agency’s permanent leader on January 20.

But he has not nominated anyone for the FCC’s open Democratic and Republican slots, even as the telecom agency looks to deregulate the industry — and forges ahead with plans to scrap the government’s existing net neutrality rules.

The same is true at the Federal Trade Commission, where the agency is down two Republicans and one Democrat. For now, Trump has tapped Maureen Ohlhausen, the consumer-protection agency’s lone GOP member, to serve as its acting chairman, but she hasn’t won the full time job. The FTC is a major cop on the beat in areas like online privacy and antitrust.

Trump has nominated at least one competition expert: Makan Delrahim, tapped in March to serve as the Justice Department official. He’s expected to be confirmed for the job, which oversees mergers like AT&T’s bid for Time Warner — a major deal that Delrahim previously said doesn’t pose much of an antitrust concern.

Much is still on the horizon. Trump has pledged an infrastructure package, for example, that could be valued at as much as $1 trillion. Other work around issues like self-driving cars is well under way.

“I think this is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Michael Beckerman, the president of the Internet Association. “A first 100 days is just 100 days, and you have years to go. And a lot of the things that were on the agenda ... are not directly related to our industry. I think the question of success will be later on.”

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