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Rep. Pramila Jayapal thinks Trump’s war on Amazon is entirely personal. (Facebook Photo / RepJayapal)

Pramila Jayapal, the congresswoman deemed “Democrats’ fastest-rising star,” pulled no punches when asked about President Donald Trump’s own jabs at Amazon.

Jayapal represents Washington state’s 7th District, which covers most of Seattle and some surrounding communities, and was in the city Wednesday for Civic Cocktail, a regular event hosted by Seattle CityClub and Seattle Channel.

Journalist Joni Balter asked Jayapal about the president’s steady drumbeat of attacks targeting Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos.

Pramila Jayapal (right) speaks with Joni Balter at Seattle CityClub’s Civic Cocktail. (CityClub Photo)

“There is no strategy,” Jayapal said.

She accused Trump of criticizing Amazon because of a personal vendetta against The Washington Post, the newspaper Bezos owns independently from the Seattle e-commerce giant.

“Trump has hated Amazon for a long time … he’s angry about Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post,” Jayapal said.

Trump has been tweeting about Amazon for the past several days, claiming the company is ripping off the U.S. Postal Service, using the Post as a lobbying tool, and underpaying on taxes. Several of those accusations have been widely disputed. Trump’s latest attack came Thursday morning.

Balter asked Jayapal whether she thought Amazon pays enough in taxes, a topic of hot debate most recently raised in a Seattle Times column by Danny Westneat. The column riffs off of previous reports that Amazon paid no federal income tax in 2017. “A rock star American company that has two-thirds of its sales in America nevertheless paid three-fourths of its taxes to other countries! That’s what the president should be fired up about,” Westneat writes.

Jayapal skirted Balter’s question about Amazon’s tax responsiblity, explaining, “those numbers that I saw from Danny were the first time that I’d seen those numbers.”

But she did call for an overhaul of Washington state’s tax system, which has been called the most regressive in the country.

“We have a lot of work to do to really figure out how we incentivize businesses to keep jobs here, to be able to contribute so that we can have transportation systems and education systems that benefit our corporations, so that we can graduate people out of community colleges and colleges and actually have the skills that they need without $80,000 of college debt,” she said.

Continue reading for an edited transcript of Jayapal’s exchange with Balter.

Joni Balter: So if Congressman Norm Dicks was the Congressman from Boeing, that makes you the Congresswoman from Amazon. What do you make of the tiff between President Trump and Jeff Bezos, The Washington Post … what do you make of it?

Pramila Jayapal: Well, Trump has hated Amazon for a long time and I think that that came out in many interviews that he’s done with Vanity Fair and with others. I don’t think there’s a strategy around most of what is happening. If you look at trade and you look at tariffs, I think tariffs can be useful if they’re part of a strategy. What is the foreign policy strategy? What is our trade strategy? How are we actually engaging between global and domestic production? But there is no strategy. And similarly, with Amazon, I think honestly he’s angry about Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post. I think that’s much more of what’s going on. That is clear. Danny Westneat had an interesting column in The Seattle Times yesterday … we need to think in terms of how do we make sure our businesses, which are so valuable to our economy and to our communities, are really partners in everything we’re trying to create.

Balter: But what about that? Because I would like to know first and then second, does Amazon pay enough tax locally to account for the footprint that they’ve put here locally?

Jayapal: That’s a big question. I don’t know. Those numbers that I saw from Danny were the first time that I’d seen those numbers.

Balter: But then that’s very important. They pay no federal income tax, according to that story.

Jayapal: And there are a lot of bills that we’re considering in Judiciary around how you tax internet sales because this is a whole new arena and we have not really kept up, in terms of the amount of sales that are done over the internet. There are a lot of complaints in Seattle, as you know, about increased taxes. Another tax here, another tax there … we are taxing people out of being able to live in their homes because you do have value in your home, as it gains value, but you don’t gain that value until you sell the property. Fundamentally, I’ve always been a fan of actually looking at our whole state tax system and really figuring out how we reform our tax system so that everyone’s paying their fair share but we don’t have a lot of nickel and diming with 100 taxes that end up hitting people that maybe can’t bear it the most.

We need a whole reform of our tax system locally and then at the federal level, the Trump tax plan which benefited a lot of big businesses, including some that are in our state, transferred $1.3 trillion of wealth from middle class working families to the wealthiest corporations and the top 1 percent and boosted our deficit. This year it will be at $1 trillion. So we have a lot of work to do to really figure out how we incentivize businesses to keep jobs here, to be able to contribute so that we can have transportation systems and education systems that benefit our corporations, so that we can graduate people out of community colleges and colleges and actually have the skills that they need without $80,000 of college debt. There’s a lot of issues for us to take on and that’s why I’m in Congress.

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