House Democrats grilled T-Mobile CEO John Legere on Tuesday for staying at the Trump International Hotel while his company seeks government approval for a merger with Sprint.
Legere and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law to answer questions on the deal, appearing before lawmakers for the first time since T-Mobile’s spending at the Washington hotel came to light. The Washington Post was first to report on T-Mobile’s spending at the Trump hotel.
Legere and a handful of other company executives checked in at the Trump hotel the day after the deal was announced in April 2018 and some have returned repeatedly since then. T-Mobile has spent $195,000 on stays and meetings at the hotel over the past 11 months, the company has said.
“Do you understand the optics of that? What it looks like? It looks like what’s happening is that T-Mobile is trying to curry favor with the White House,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat.
Legere replied that he’s a “longtime Trump hotel stayer.”
“The optics of me staying at the Trump hotel hasn’t changed in 10 years,” he said.
In a letter sent to two Democratic lawmakers last month, he explained that he chose to stay there based on “availability, security, meeting facilities and proximity to the activities scheduled in that city.”
The amount spent at the Trump International Hotel accounted for 14% of the $1.4 million spent at DC hotels by T-Mobile during that period, the company has said.
But that didn’t satisfy all members of the Democrat-controlled House panel.
“I only raise this because we unfortunately have a situation where the President has not disclosed his business interests and it appears you might be trying to influence the President to get involved in something he really should not be involved in,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat.
It was no secret that President Donald Trump opposed the merger between AT&T and Time Warner (CNN is a division of WarnerMedia, which was created as a result of that merger). The Justice Department unsuccessfully sued to block the acquisition.
Chairman David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint a “critical test” for the antitrust division of the Justice Department.
Is it “genuinely dedicated to promoting competition, or does it only oppose mergers when the White House tells it to do so?” he asked during his opening statement.
The Justice Department did not seek to block a similar merger between Disney and 21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee criticized Democrats for asking Legere about his hotel stays.
“Where Mr. Legere stays when he comes to Washington really has no relationship whatsoever to whether this proposed merger is in the public interest or not,” said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, the Republican ranking member.
Legere and Claure argued that their merger is necessary to make them competitive at creating a 5G wireless network, particularly since China has already aggressively moved into that space. They’ve also vowed to lower prices if they are allowed to merge, and that the deal would create thousands of jobs.
But critics find those claims hard to believe. Christopher Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America union, said during his testimony at Tuesday’s hearing that he expects the opposite – that the merger would kill jobs and lower wages.
Congress doesn’t have a say in the approval of the merger, but some concerned lawmakers have urged the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice to block the deal.
In December, the proposal cleared a key hurdle, but it still needs final approval. The companies expect to merge as planned in the first half of this year.