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Hillicon Valley: Amazon VP resigns in protest | Republicans eye university ties to China | Support rises for vote by mail

Hillicon Valley: Amazon VP resigns in protest | Republicans eye university ties to China | Support rises for vote by mail
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Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don’t already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech reporter, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills), for more coverage.

RESIGNING IN PROTEST: Tim Bray, a vice president and senior engineer at Amazon Web Services, has resigned over the firings of activist workers at the online retail giant.

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“Remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised,” Bray wrote in a blog post.

“So I resigned."

Amazon has fired several employees that have protested the workplace conditions at warehouses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bray wrote that the "victims weren’t abstract entities but real people; here are some of their names: Courtney Bowden, Gerald Bryson, Maren Costa, Emily Cunningham, Bashir Mohammed, and Chris Smalls."

Smalls's was the first high-profile dismissal during the pandemic. He was fired after organizing a walkout at a Staten Island, N.Y., facility where a worker had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Costa and Cunningham, members of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group that protested the company's climate policies, were fired in early April after criticizing warehouse conditions on Twitter.

Mohammed was fired the same weekend as the two tech designers after organizing workers at a Minnesota warehouse for more rigorous cleaning and safety.

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Amazon has defended the firings, alleging that the workers broke internal policies while emphasizing support for employees that speak out.

"I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both," Bray wrote. "Right?"

Read more here. 

UNIVERSITIES IN THE SPOTLIGHT: House Republicans are seeking information from the Education Department on China's ties to leading U.S. universities, as tensions mount between the two countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Republicans, led by House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanScarborough slams Jordan for spreading 'lies' about Fauci: 'It's sheer idiocy' Maxine Waters cuts off Jim Jordan, Fauci sparring at hearing: 'Shut your mouth' Fauci, Jim Jordan spar over pandemic restrictions MORE (Ohio), sent a letter to Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos on Monday asking for details on what he characterized as the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) efforts to influence American colleges.

“We write to seek a better understanding of the Department’s efforts to address unreported foreign direct investment into the U.S. higher education system,” the House Republicans wrote. “This joint inquiry is in furtherance of Congressional Republican’s efforts to investigate the Chinese government’s propaganda and cover-up campaign surrounding this pandemic.”

The House members asked DeVos to provide documentation on all U.S. universities under investigation for receiving foreign gifts since 2018, and any preliminary findings from those investigations.

The letter was signed by ranking members on other House committees, including Reps. Virginia FoxxVirginia Ann FoxxHouse passes bill to prevent violence in health care workplaces House passes bill to combat gender pay gap Republicans argue school accountability waivers overstep Education secretary authority MORE (N.C.), Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (Texas), Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersCongress brings back corrupt, costly, and inequitably earmarks Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike Biden's prediction on Afghanistan withdrawal spurs doubts MORE (Ala.), Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesOvernight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he Hillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats hearing MORE (Calif.), and Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulOvernight Defense: Biden makes his Afghanistan decision Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Biden to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 MORE (Texas).

The Department of Education has launched an investigation of its own into at least one major school system. It is looking into ties between the University of Texas and the Chinese lab being investigated by U.S. intelligence officials for potentially being linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. A university spokesperson told The Hill they would cooperate with the investigation.

Read more about the investigation here. 

SUPPORT FOR VOTE BY MAIL INCREASES: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they would support voting by mail as an alternative to in-person voting on Election Day if the coronavirus continues to pose a public health threat in November, according to a poll released Monday.

The USA Today-Suffolk University poll found that 65 percent of respondents endorsed mail-in voting as an alternative, while just 32 percent said they opposed it. Three percent said they were undecided.

Opinions broke primarily along partisan lines, with Republicans being far more wary of voting by mail. Forty-three percent of GOP respondents said they supported vote-by-mail as an alternative during the pandemic, while 53 percent opposed it. Among Democrats, 84 percent said they supported it, with 14 percent opposed.

Sixty-six percent of independents said they supported vote-by-mail.

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The survey results come amid a heated debate over mail-in voting, with proponents voicing concerns about having large gatherings at polling stations during the pandemic. Some Democratic lawmakers are calling for states to expand mail-in voting ahead of November.

President TrumpDonald TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report MORE, meanwhile, has come out against mail-in voting, arguing it has “tremendous potential for voter fraud” and gives Democrats an advantage.

Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — already hold elections almost entirely by mail. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia give voters the option. Voting by mail is only available in certain circumstances in the remaining states.

Read more about the poll here. 

SUPREME COURT ADJUSTS: The Supreme Court on Monday broke with tradition and held oral arguments by conference call, a first for the famously tech-averse tribunal as the justices adapt to the global pandemic.

A live audio feed of the argument — a trademark dispute concerning the travel service Booking.com — gave the general public unprecedented access to the hearing in real time.  

As arguments opened, the justices allowed counsel two minutes of speaking time before posing questions, which began with Chief Justice John Roberts and proceeded to the other justices in order of seniority.

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In another rarity, conservative Justice Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasTrump-era grievances could get second life at Supreme Court Joe Biden's surprising presidency Hillicon Valley: Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight against Oracle | Justices dismiss suit over Trump's blocking of critics on Twitter | Tim Cook hopes Parler will return to Apple Store MORE, who typically remains mum during arguments, posed a series of questions, the first time he has spoken this term. When Thomas spoke during arguments last year, he snapped a three-year silence.

The court’s embrace of teleconferencing represents a dramatic step for a court that has traditionally been wary of adopting new technologies and comes after the court postponed arguments in March and April in order to abide by social distancing policies.

Read more. 

Lighter click: Monday calls for cute animals

An op-ed to chew on: Strong broadband matters more than ever. Let’s build it right

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB: 

U.K. steps up cyber defense of institutions involved in coronavirus research (Wall Street Journal / Jenny Strasburg and Denise Roland) 

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Candidates can’t campaign, so they’re trying to go viral (Verge / Makena Kelly)

The Promise—and Risk—of a Career in TikTok (Motherboard / Lauren Kaori Gurley)

One of Amazon’s Most Powerful Critics Lives in Its Backyard (New York Times / David McCabe)