President Donald Trump’s repeated Twitter attacks on Amazon have already dented the e-commerce giant’s stock price. But if he really wants to hammer the company and its ultra-billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos, the president has some tools at his disposal — using the government’s spending and regulating powers.
Whether Trump or his allies will actually use any of those weapons is unclear. But they could cause a variety of headaches for Amazon, one of the world’s biggest retailers — a company that until now hasn’t faced much resistance to its skyrocketing growth.
Here’s a look at the threats the company may face if Trump follows up his words with action:
1. Postal rates
The president’s most frequent line of attack lately has targeted the special rates that Amazon pays the U.S. Postal Service for delivery of its packages. Trump’s argument, roundly criticized by fact-checkers, is that taxpayers are losing money because the company is paying “very below cost.”
But it’s not clear Trump can do much about it, partly because career postal employees are the ones who craft such delivery contracts with businesses.
It’s true that a deal as large as Amazon’s could attract the attention of political appointees who lead the Postal Service, said Michael Plunkett, president of the trade group Association for Postal Commerce. And that could give Trump leverage to try to drive up the company’s shipping rates.
But there’s a problem with that scenario: The current postmaster general and deputy postmaster general are Obama-era holdovers, and the Postal Service’s board of governors has been vacant since Trump took office. So the president doesn’t have any people installed in those positions who could act on his anti-Amazon agenda.
And his politicization of the Postal Service’s relationship with Amazon all but guarantees the issue will emerge in any confirmation hearings for future nominees to those positions.
All the attention on Amazon may not be good for the Postal Service, either. Package delivery has been a rare source of revenue growth for the USPS in recent years, and Trump’s ire could accelerate Amazon’s efforts to explore alternative delivery methods that could decrease its reliance on standard shipping methods.
In the long term, Amazon has discussed plans to have drones deliver its packages — although it would need permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.
2. Cloud computing
One place where Trump might have an immediate impact is with cloud computing — one of Amazon’s key lines of business, with much of the federal government already relying on its services.
And its share of the federal pie is set to get bigger. The Defense Department is preparing to award a 10-year, multibillion-dollar cloud computing contract called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, and critics in the world of federal IT complain it’s been tailor-made for one company: Amazon.
Congress, in the omnibus spending bill passed last month, included a provision calling on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to explain why the JEDI contract was structured the way it is. Mattis has until next month to lay out his thinking. But Trump’s increasingly heated denunciations of Amazon could change the Defense secretary’s calculations.
That would be a change of pace for Mattis, who visited Amazon’s Seattle headquarters last summer and appeared chummy with Bezos in a photo that quickly went viral.
JEDI is slated to be officially awarded in late September.
If Trump succeeds in diverting the Pentagon from working with Amazon, it would run counter to the efforts of his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. Kushner’s White House Office of American Innovation has been pushing federal agencies to move to private cloud services like those offered by Amazon.
Trump has accused Amazon of having an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers, tweeting it’s “not a level playing field!” That kind of talk appears to raise antitrust concerns and fits with broader complaints that some have raised about the company’s market power.
In a similar scenario, Trump’s frequent attacks on CNN have raised questions about whether they influenced the Justice Department’s decision to try to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner, the news network’s parent company.
But antitrust experts say they doubt the DOJ or FTC would be persuaded to take a harder look at Amazon simply because of Trump’s outbursts.
“I would give an unequivocal ‘no’ that political pressure would play a role in any way,” said James Cooper, who served at the FTC from 2003 to 2011, including as acting director of the agency’s Office of Policy Planning.
With the DOJ, “there’s really well-developed antitrust law, and I don’t see them saying, ‘Let’s blow up up antitrust as we know it because Amazon is really big,'” Cooper said, adding that that would “require a major paradigm shift” directed by Congress or the courts.
The FTC’s status as an independent agency, whose commissioners are chosen by the president but can’t be fired by him, means that they are less subject to the president’s wishes, he said.
4. State-level scrutiny
Amazon could also be threatened on another front: Trump-loving red states.
A Vanity Fair report this week suggested the White House could encourage Republican state attorneys general to go after Amazon — though the details were murky.
Some state AGs have ratcheted up their scrutiny of technology companies lately, including Google and Facebook on antitrust and consumer privacy grounds, respectively.
A spokeswoman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who serves as chairwoman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, said her office is “evaluating the criticisms against Amazon and will take action if we deem it appropriate.”
State AGs have frequently banded together, often along party lines, to fight federal policies they find objectionable. For example, a coalition of 23 attorneys general is suing Trump’s FCC over its repeal of net neutrality rules.
Amazon has already faced some scrutiny from states for its tax collection practices — and one area where Amazon could be vulnerable is the taxation of sales by third-party merchants who use its website to sell their products.
Though Amazon collects sales taxes from its direct customers in every state that has a sales tax, it collects taxes for third-party sales only in Washington state and Pennsylvania, which passed laws that forced the company to do so. South Carolina sued Amazon last year, seeking to require the company to collect sales taxes on third-party sales.
In response to other lawsuits and legislation, the company has given some states lists of outside merchants who sold things to their residents.