Senate Judiciary approves subpoenas for Twitter, Facebook CEOs over bias charges

By Cristiano Lima
10/22/2020 10:25 AM EDT Updated: 10/22/2020 10:49 AM EDT

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to subpoena Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify about allegations of anti-conservative bias, ratcheting up GOP pressure on the social media companies’ content policies before the November elections.

How the vote went down: The Judiciary Committee voted 12-0 to authorize the subpoenas, with all Judiciary Republicans voting in favor. Democrats boycotted the session over a separate vote on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Facebook and Twitter have faced mounting criticism from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies for limiting the spread of disputed New York Post reports about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son.

Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Thursday that he hoped the move would give the committee “some leverage to secure their testimony.” A Judiciary spokesperson had said late Wednesday that the committee is still negotiating with the companies for the CEOs to possibly appear voluntarily, instead of by subpoena.

The panel has not set a date for the hearing, but Judiciary Republican leaders have expressed desire to haul in the CEOs ahead of the November elections to face questions on charges their platforms stifle conservative viewpoints. “One way or another, either voluntarily or pursuant to subpoena, they will testify and they will testify before the election,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Monday.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), an outspoken tech critic, told Fox News on Thursday he hopes the committee will “subpoena them to come next week.”

Spokespeople for Twitter and Facebook declined to comment Thursday. The companies deny the bias charges.

Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are already scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the Senate Commerce Committee. That panel secured their testimonies after voting unanimously to authorize subpoenas for the CEOs.

Graham indicated Thursday he rebuffed a request by Judiciary Democrats to table the vote until a later date. “I think there’s a lot of interest on the other side of getting some of the social media folks here to answer questions about their platforms, so I’m going to move forward with the request today,” he said.

Committee leaders initially aimed to hold the vote on Tuesday, but the plans were delayed after some Republican members expressed reservations about the scope and timing of the subpoenas, as POLITICO reported earlier.

Plans for the vote remained up in the air until late Wednesday, when the committee confirmed it would move ahead with the subpoena markup on Thursday.

“Just 24 hours ago, I wasn’t sure we were even going to be able to get a vote so I’m delighted that this has happened,” Hawley said.page1image36545920page1image36537472page1image36538624page1image36545344

The vote marks the second time in less than a month a Republican-led Senate panel has approved subpoenas for some of Silicon Valley’s most recognizable executives, a step this Congress had not yet taken until just recently.

A still-growing barrage: The Judiciary votes adds to a flurry attacks against the big online companies from Republicans across Washington in the run-up to the November election. In recent weeks a growing number of GOP officials have called for revamping or scrapping a prized set of liability protections that shield internet companies from lawsuits for hosting and moderating user content.

Trump has repeatedly urged lawmakers to repeal those protections, afforded under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. And the White House has pressured Republican leaders on key committees to hold hearings ahead of the election drilling into allegations of bias, POLITICO reported.

The Justice Department also upped the pressure on the industry Tuesday by filing an antitrust suit against Google over its powerful search engine. Coalitions of state attorneys general are weighing whether to file their own actions against the search giant in the coming weeks.

Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.

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