AT&T says it will pay out $200 million in bonuses thanks to the tax bill. It also has an $85 billion merger pending before Donald Trump’s Department of Justice.
After House Republicans finally passed their wildly unpopular tax reform bill on Wednesday afternoon, Donald Trump-hosted another one of his trademark raucous press conferences in the Rose Garden, gleefully inviting the myriad grinning, seal-clapping Republicans flanking him to approach the podium and, one by one, express their gratitude and reverence for his unmatched leadership. There were “Merry Christmas, America” salutations. There were false claims about the Affordable Care Act. There were awkward cases of mistaken identity. It didn’t matter. Not even the president’s decision to deliver a cringeworthy one-liner about Steve Scalise, who was nearly shot to death while practicing for a charity baseball game this summer—”He had a rougher year than most of us. It was a hell of a way to lose weight!”—could put a damper on such a joyous, monumental occasion.
Before this celebration began in earnest, though, the president made a triumphant announcement about the effect that the tax bill, he explained, was already having on the American economy.
This just came out two minutes ago, they handed it to me—“AT&T plans to increase U.S. capital spending $1 billion and provide $1,000 special bonus to more than 200,000 U.S. employees.” And that’s because of what we do. So that’s pretty good. That’s pretty good.
Trump’s enthusiasm here stems from the fact that of the many criticisms of the bill, one of the most persistent has been that corporations, instead of reacting to lower tax rates by creating new jobs and paying workers higher wages, would simply use the extra cash to buy back stock and write giant novelty checks to members of their C-suites. For Republicans still grappling with the reality that a majority of their constituents loathes the bill they just passed, AT&T’s announcement looks like a bit of very-welcome fodder for disproving that thesis.
Sure enough, MAGA Twitter promptly lost its goddamn mind, declaring the news to constitute irrefutable evidence that “corporate tax cuts are already helping workers” before the ink on the bill had even managed to dry, and noting that the purported “evil corporations” were jump-starting the proverbial trickle-down process, just as they’d hoped. House Speaker Paul Ryan, unable to contain his euphoria, also credited this development to the tax bill. “It’s only been a few hours since the House voted to send the final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to President Trump,” he crowed, “and we are already starting to see results.”
Strangely absent from any of these proclamations is the fact that at this very moment, AT&T has had its $85 billion mergers with Time Warner blocked by Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, which filed a lawsuit against the company in November. On the campaign trail, Trump declared that this type of deal “destroys democracy,” and earlier this year, he reiterated his opinion that the merger would be “not good for the country.” Just last week, the telecom giant announced that its latest round of settlement talks with DOJ had fallen through. Now, at a moment when the administration is in its hour of greatest need for proof that tax cuts for the wealthy actually benefit those who are not, AT&T swoops in with a pitch-perfect soundbyte declaring exactly that. Here’s the email AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson sent to employees:
Companies in other industries hastily followed suit. Fifth Third Bank promised a $1000 bonus to 13,500 of its employees, and pledged to raise the hourly wages of 3000 workers to $15. Not to be outdone, Wells Fargo boosted its minimum wage to the same amount, and set aside $400 million in “donations to community and nonprofit organizations.” Comcast is giving out $1000 bonuses, too. Boeing announced that it would earmark $300 million for “workforce-related and charitable investments.” Each time, the White House celebrated deliriously.
In what I’m sure is a set of wild coincidences, the Trump administration is currently considering whether to block Boeing’s $20 billion deal to sell jetliners to Iran as part of its ongoing review of the 2015 nuclear deal. Earlier this month, the president tweeted that he wanted to “substantially increase” the fine amount that Wells Fargo would pay in conjunction with its abusive mortgage lending practices. Despite overwhelming public opposition, Comcast just watched a Republican-controlled FCC narrowly lead it into a brave new era of free of net neutrality regulations. And Trump’s pick to head the FDIC, first named in November and currently awaiting Senate confirmation? Why, it’s Fifth Third Bank general counsel Jelena McWilliams, of course.
Obviously, all large corporations engage with the government in ways that, in some way or another, affect their business. But it is probably worth noting that the ones breathlessly rushing to credit the president for pay hikes and holiday bonuses are the same ones that have some form of extremely lucrative business pending before his administration right now. These may not be the massive stock buybacks that the tax bill’s critics feared, but they aren’t exactly benevolent corporations handing out bags of money to loyal employees, either. The cynical interpretation is that they are shrewd gambits designed to curry favor with a man who loves praise more than anything in the world, and who is more desperate than ever to hear it. Given that Donald Trump began his press conference by reading directly from AT&T’s press release on the subject, it sure seems like these companies know a mark when they see one.