NEW YORK — Eric Schmidt, one of the tech industry’s most prominent backers of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, is trying to rekindle his relationships with Republicans as Donald Trump prepares to enter the White House.
Spotted on an unannounced visit to Trump Tower on Thursday, Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, lunched privately with Jared Kushner, an architect of Trump’s election victory who will continue serving in the White House, a source familiar with the meeting told POLITICO.
Kushner, for his part, has ties to the tech industry, and after Trump declared victory, Schmidt praised the president-elect’s son-in-law, calling him in a Fast Company profile at the time “the biggest surprise of the 2016 election.” It was Schmidt’s second known visit to Trump Tower, after he huddled with the president-elect for his “tech summit” alongside other Silicon Valley executives in December.
It’s hardly Schmidt’s only outreach to rising GOP leaders in recent days. On a tour through Washington last week, Schmidt huddled with Republican leaders including House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (S.D.), according to congressional sources. As Trump formed his transition team, the Google leader also has connected with Gary Cohn, one of Trump’s economic advisers, and Steve Mnuchin, the president-elect’s nominee to lead the Treasury Department, another source familiar with the matter confirmed.
A spokesman for Google declined to comment for this story. Exiting Trump Tower on Thursday, Schmidt — whose visit was not announced by the president-elect’s aides — ignored shouted questions from reporters.
Under President Barack Obama, Google long has benefited from privileged access to the White House. Obama in 2008 spoke at the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters as he sought to build his first run for the presidency. Schmidt, meanwhile, personally, helped build the digital backbone for Obama’s campaigns, and some of Google’s executives landed key roles in the Democratic administration. That list included Megan Smith, the government’s current chief technology officer.
As Republicans began to gain greater control in Washington, Google stocked up on key GOP aides — including former Rep. Susan Molinari, who leads the company’s Washington office. With Trump, however, Google might face one of its toughest political tests. For one thing, the president-elect doesn’t enter the Oval Office with the same ties to the tech giant’s leaders — or Silicon Valley, as a whole. And Schmidt much preferred Clinton, to whom he offered his tech expertise, over Trump.
Meanwhile, some of the aides Trump has selected have a skeptical view of the company. Before joining Trump’s White House and presidential campaign, Steve Bannon ran Breitbart, the conservative site that often skewers Google for its Democratic ties. One of the president-elect’s new aides is Rob Porter, a Senate antitrust veteran whose past boss, Mike Lee (R-Utah), has called for an antitrust review of the company. And among those under consideration at the FTC, which last investigated Google, is Sean Reyes, the Utah attorney general who last year asked the agency to revive its old competition probe.