Jeff Bezos' Twitter feud with the Biden White House stretched into its second week Monday after the White House pushed back against the Amazon founder's recent tweets regarding inflation.
The unlikely feud began Friday with a tweet from Bezos accusing the president of "misdirection" when he asserted that forcing corporations to "pay their fair share" would bring down inflation. For its part, the White House says the dispute stems from Biden’s recent warm embrace of Amazon (AMZN) labor organizers.
Either way, the spat represents a turnabout in the relationship between Biden and Bezos, who heartily congratulated Biden when he defeated Donald Trump in 2020. The fight with Bezos, who's currently the world's third richest person, could also be a harbinger of an even more antagonistic relationship between Democrats and billionaires as the midterm elections draw closer.
“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, fights inflation for the long haul,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday.
Bezos had a very negative relationship with Trump over the years on issues like the billionaire's ownership of The Washington Post and Amazon’s relationship with the U.S. Postal Service. But even then, Bezos has largely avoided direct political commentary.
That has clearly changed. Here’s a timeline of the ongoing back and forth:
May 5 — An Amazon organizer visits the White House
In early May, Christian Smalls visited the White House as part of a group of labor leaders. Smalls, who's known for organizing Amazon workers in Staten Island, wore an "Eat the Rich" jacket and garnered this compliment from Biden: “You’re my kind of trouble.”
Chris Smalls is making good trouble and helping inspire a new movement of labor organizing across the country. Let’s keep it going. pic.twitter.com/oHMuVqf6TS
— President Biden (@POTUS) May 11, 2022
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh attended that meeting and recounted the mood during a Yahoo Finance interview. “There is definitely a drive here in this country and an excitement and a new energy” for more organized labor efforts, Walsh said.
Amazon has fought hard against unionization efforts. When the New York effort led by Smalls succeeded earlier this year, the company said it was “disappointed.”
Friday, May 13 — The first tweet
Bezos has become more vocal on Twitter recently, notably gaining notice for antagonizing Elon Musk over his ties to China. The billionaire has also commented on the market downturn; his space company Blue Origin; and Amazon’s 25th anniversary.
On May 13, responding to a tweet from @JoeBiden that didn’t mention him or Amazon, Bezos objected to “mushing” together the issues of inflation and Biden’s long-time push for higher corporate taxes.
The newly created Disinformation Board should review this tweet, or maybe they need to form a new Non Sequitur Board instead. Raising corp taxes is fine to discuss. Taming inflation is critical to discuss. Mushing them together is just misdirection. https://t.co/ye4XiNNc2v
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) May 14, 2022
Democrats still hold out hope of resuscitating their stymied “Build Back Better” effort in the coming months with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) recently saying that a minimum tax on corporations remains on table.
The tweet from Bezos got widespread notice. While Amazon organizer Smalls told the billionaire to stop crying, the White House didn't respond right away.
Sunday, May 15 — A second tweet and a White House response
Bezos followed up on Sunday morning with a second missive asserting that Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who blocked Build Back Better, "saved" Democrats from themselves.
“Misdirection doesn’t help the country,” Bezos added.
In fact, the administration tried hard to inject even more stimulus into an already over-heated, inflationary economy and only Manchin saved them from themselves. Inflation is a regressive tax that most hurts the least affluent. Misdirection doesn’t help the country. https://t.co/a8cygcunEG
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) May 15, 2022
This time, he got a response from the White House with Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates, who sent reporters a statement later that day that said “it doesn’t require a huge leap to figure out why” Bezos might oppose policies "asking the richest corporations and taxpayers to pay their fair share."
“It’s also unsurprising that this tweet comes after the president met with labor organizers, including Amazon employees,” Bates added.
Monday, May 16 - Larry Summers weighs in
By Monday morning, a former Treasury Secretary weighed in. Larry Summers — sometimes a Biden ally — said Bezos was “mostly wrong in his recent attack.” In fact, Summers said, it's fine to raise taxes to combat inflation. Still, Summers also noted that Washington's stimulus has contributed to inflation.
I think @JeffBezos is mostly wrong in his recent attack on the @JoeBiden Admin. It is perfectly reasonable to believe, as I do and @POTUS asserts, that we should raise taxes to reduce demand to contain inflation and that the increases should be as progressive as possible.
— Lawrence H. Summers (@LHSummers) May 16, 2022
Later in the day, Bezos jumped in again to accuse the White House of misdirection yet again and to say Biden would have exacerbated inflation if he had been able to pass his full agenda.
"Look, a squirrel!" he wrote mockingly, suggesting the White House had tried to distract people from the actual causes of inflation.
Meanwhile, Bates kept punching back in a thread highlighting Amazon's previous support for elements of the Build Back Better bill, the Summers tweet, and claims that future spending wouldn't increase the deficit.
Biden himself has not weighed in since his initial tweet, but both sides seem happy to keep fighting. Bezos is clearly ready to engage — even as he draws less than favorable reviews of his posting skills compared to fellow billionaire Elon Musk — and Biden seems more than happy to be seen as the enemy of billionaires as election season draws closer.
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.