Ed Bastian, the chief executive of Delta Air Lines, is speaking at the DealBook DC Policy Project about “the toughest year in Delta’s history,” as he put it recently, and how the airline industry will recover from its deep pandemic slump.
Letitia James, the New York state attorney general, spoke on Monday at the DealBook DC Policy Project about the power of accountability, citing several of the investigations that her office is pursuing to make her points.
Here are the highlights from the discussion:
The Supreme Court’s rejection of an attempt by former President Donald J. Trump to shield his tax records from the Manhattan district attorney “doesn’t change the tenor of our lawsuit,” said Ms. James of her office’s civil action against the Trump family’s businesses. “They inflated their taxes for the purposes of gaining benefits from insurance companies as well as from mortgage companies, and then deflated the very same assets for the purposes of evading tax liability in New York State.”
“I’m never surprised by the conduct of the former president of the United States,” she said of speculation about “secret pardons” that have not come to light. (“It’s nothing more than that: pure speculation,” she added.)
“It’s not my objective to run Amazon out of town,” Ms. James said of her office’s suit against the tech giant for workplace safety and alleged retaliation against employees. “It’s my objective to protect the safety and the health of its employees. That really is my objective. And right now this day, Amazon could approach my office. We can engage in a consent decree where they rehire these employees, and they put forth efforts to protect the health and the safety of their employees. And we will call it a day.”
“I am guided by one simple concept, the concept of justice,” she said. “Standing up for the rights of individuals, particularly when big business or powerful business trample on those rights. In addition to that, I tend to test the law. And I tend to bring novel cases and novel theories because it’s really critically important that over the years our Constitution, as you know, is a living document. And it has been bended. So I continue to press the law.”
“The federal government under the previous administration was absent in a lot of areas, and particularly in the area of antitrust,” Ms. James said. “The point is that these big tech companies stifle competition, innovation, creativity. They’re a threat to our privacy by monetizing our data.” That’s why, she added, “it is really critically important that I and other attorneys general in this nation decided to take action against Big Tech.”
On cryptocurrencies and the law: “It’s a balancing act between innovation and protecting investors against fraud,” she said. What will be the outcome years from now? “I don’t have a crystal ball. I wish I did. All I know is: buyers beware.”
“Arresting essential workers, arresting observers, all that and more was wrong. So it’s important that we engage in reforms,” she said about her lawsuit against the New Y.ork Police Department for the handling of protests during the “racial reckoning” after the killing of George Floyd.
“I love the law. It’s both the sword and shield and can be used to advance the interest of the general public and protect those who are vulnerable and marginalized,” she said. “I view this through the lens of justice and correcting wrongs and standing up for those without a champion. And using my voice and my platform to seek justice for them. I view myself as the people’s lawyer.”
On the second day of the DealBook DC Policy Project, we will hear from more policymakers and business leaders about the challenges for the coronavirus vaccine rollout, the future of financial regulation and the outlook for bipartisanship in polarized times.
Here is the lineup (all times Eastern):
12:30 P.M. – 1 P.M.
Karen Lynch of CVS Health on the vaccine rollout
Karen Lynch took over CVS Health this month as the pharmacy chain takes center stage in efforts to fight the pandemic. It is working with the government to distribute the coronavirus vaccine in its stores, as well as in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. To aid in those efforts, the company hired 15,000 employees at the end of last year, staffing up to deal with what President Biden has called “gigantic” logistical hurdles to the vaccine rollout.
2:30 P.M. – 3 P.M.
Vlad Tenev of Robinhood and Jay Clayton, former S.E.C. chairman, on the markets
At the center of the recent meme-stock frenzy was the online brokerage firm Robinhood, which has attracted millions of users with commission-free trades but drew outrage among its users when it halted trading in GameStop and other stocks at the height of the mania.
Vlad Tenev, Robinhood’s chief executive, is fresh from facing hours of hostile questioning at a congressional hearing last week about his company’s business practices. Joining him to discuss what regulators should now do — if anything — is Jay Clayton, the veteran Wall Street lawyer who led the Securities and Exchange Commission during the Trump administration. From the beginning of his tenure, Mr. Clayton said that his mission was protecting “the long-term interests of the Main Street investor.”
5:30 P.M. – 6 P.M.
Senator Mitt Romney on finding common ground
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, crossed party lines to vote to convict President Donald J. Trump on articles of impeachment, twice. He is also drafting a bill with Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, that would raise the minimum wage while forbidding businesses to hire undocumented immigrants. This is typical of Mr. Romney’s approach, speaking to concerns on both sides of the aisle in an era of stark partisan divisions.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen opened the DealBook DC Policy Project on Monday, moderated by The New York Times’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, about the prospects for a post-pandemic recovery.
Highlights from the discussion:
“We need to make sure that those who have been most affected aren’t permanently scarred by this crisis,” Ms. Yellen said. “There are a lot of different metrics we can use to judge success,” she said. “Success, to me, would be if we could get back to pre-pandemic levels of unemployment, and see the re-employment of those who have lost jobs in the service sector particularly.”
“Of course, a key job for a Treasury secretary is to make sure our country is on a sound fiscal course,” she said. “If you don’t spend what is necessary to get the economy quickly back on track, that has a fiscal cost as well.” Although U.S. debt levels are much higher than they were during the 2008 financial crisis, because of lower interest rates, the share of interest payments as a share of G.D.P. today is roughly the same, she noted. “I think we have more fiscal space than we used to because of the interest rate environment, and I think we should consider using it.”
A so-called digital dollar, maintained by the Federal Reserve and based on a blockchain, could result in “faster, safer and cheaper payments,” she said. There are also issues to resolve first. “What would be the impact on the banking system? Would it cause a huge movement of deposits out of banks and into the Fed? Would the Fed deal with retail customers or try to do this at a wholesale level? Are there financial stability concerns? How would we manage money laundering and illicit finance issues? There’s a lot of things to consider here, but it’s worth looking at.”
“I don’t think that Bitcoin is widely used as a transaction mechanism,” Ms. Yellen said. “It’s an extremely inefficient way of conduction transactions and the amount of energy that’s consumed in processing those transactions is staggering.”
“I find it exciting that so many American companies are recognizing the climate change is something we really have to deal with meaningfully in the coming decade,” Ms. Yellen said. The same goes for diversity in corporate America. “I don’t know if there needs to be a law,” Ms. Yellen said, but, “first of all, I think it’s unfair. And second of all, in terms of the performance of organizations, there’s a great deal of research that shows that organizations that are diverse do perform better in a whole variety of ways. So this is an important goal and it’s top of mind to me at Treasury where promoting diversity and inclusion will be a key objective.”
“We need to understand and detail the facts of the matter,” she said of the trading frenzy around GameStop’s shares, noting that the Securities and Exchange Commission is preparing a report that could inform potential regulatory action. “Are investors sufficiently well-informed and protected? I think that’s a really important question and it’s too soon to draw conclusions,” she said.
And finally, why is it taking so long to add Harriet Tubman’s portrait to the $20 bill? “It’s a complicated manufacturing process, so it takes longer to issue a new set of bills than you would imagine,” she said. “But I promise I will do everything I possibly can to expedite this and I would love to see Harriet Tubman honored on our currency.”
It’s the first day of the DealBook DC Policy Project, in which top policymakers and business leaders gather to debate the priorities for moving the country — and the world — forward. Today, speakers consider the shape of the economic recovery, how to hold power to account, the future of travel and where to focus stimulus funds. Register here to attend, free of charge from anywhere in the world.
Today’s lineup (all times Eastern):
9 a.m. – 9:25 a.m.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on the road to recovery
On top of the $1.9 trillion economic aid plan that is working its way through Congress, the White House is raising the prospect of another big spending package focused on infrastructure. Although the economy is recovering faster than expected, it remains fragile and uneven. Navigating this path is Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair who took over as Treasury secretary last month.
2:30 P.m. – 3 P.m.
Attorney General Letitia James of New York on the power of accountability
Letitia James has more prominent cases and investigations on her plate today than most lawyers will manage in a lifetime. The way she uses her power — from suing Amazon over worker safety to uncovering the underreporting of nursing home deaths, investigating former President Donald J. Trump’s business dealings and many other actions — also highlights how states can shape national policy.
3:30 P.m. – 4 P.m.
Ed Bastian of Delta on the future of travel
Last year was “the toughest year in Delta’s history,” according to Ed Bastian, the airline’s chief executive. The carrier reported a loss of more than $12 billion as travel ground to a halt during the pandemic. In addition to feeling the pandemic’s economic effects, the airline industry is at the center of health policy debates, like whether to make masks mandatory and require coronavirus tests before travel.
4 P.m. – 4:30 P.m.
Steve Ballmer of USAFacts on stimulus by the numbers
Since stepping down as Microsoft’s chief executive in 2014, Steve Ballmer has kept busy as an National Basketball Association team owner and founder of USAFacts, a nonprofit group dedicated to presenting data about the United States in easy-to-read formats. The group aims, in his words, to “figure out what the government really does” with taxpayers’ money, and highlight the areas where spending may have the greatest effect.