It’s no secret that Sen. Bernie Sanders is a critic of Amazon.com, so it hardly came as a shock when the Vermont independent used his position as Senate Budget Committee chair to hold a hearing yesterday that was critical of the giant online retailer.
Indeed, the point of the hearing was to help Sanders make the case for one of his labor goals: The progressive senator wants the government to curtail federal contracts to companies accused of unfair labor practices. (Jeff Bezos was invited to testify. To no one’s surprise, he declined.)
It was, to be sure, a lively hearing, featuring testimony from, among others, Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker who now leads a grassroots organization called the Amazon Labor Union. But as CNBC reported, one of Sanders’ colleagues slammed the fact that the hearing was held at all.
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the hearing topic “radical” and criticized Sanders for singling out Amazon. “This is an effort to get an outcome you want, using the United States Senate as your vehicle,” Graham said. “This is very dangerous. You can have oversight hearings all you like, but you’ve determined Amazon is a piece of crap company. That’s your political bias.”
Right off the bat, let’s note how curious it was to hear Graham complain about Sanders using his position as a “vehicle” to get a policy outcome he wants. The problem isn’t that the criticism was wrong, so much as it was reductive.
Of course Sanders was using his position as a “vehicle” to get a policy outcome he wants. That’s what senators do. It’s effectively written into the job description and the point of becoming a senator in the first place.
But let’s also not miss the forest for the trees. It’s not unreasonable to say that Sanders was singling out Amazon over its controversial labor practices, which Graham considers a “dangerous” use of a public office. The follow-up question, however, is one the South Carolinian did not address: Is it also “dangerous” when Republicans single out corporate giants for entirely different reasons?
Because the last time I checked, GOP officials — both in Florida and Washington, D.C. — seemed awfully eager to go after Disney for expressing an opinion the party didn’t like. A week ago, nine of Graham’s Republican colleagues also sought to punish Citibank for an employee health care policy the GOP senators disapproved of.
Indeed, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio last year used his position to also condemn Amazon — not over labor practices but because the Floridian perceived the company as being “allies of the left in the culture war.”
Why is it “dangerous” for a progressive senator to use his office to pressure a corporate giant, but fine for Republican policymakers to do the same thing?