In meeting after meeting, the tech executives heard Democrats and Republicans blame each other for inaction.
In the morning, the group met with about two dozen Senate Democrats. Before greetings could even be exchanged, according to one participant, Majority Leader Harry Reid began attacking Republicans for holding up the Chaffetz bill. Later, Schumer suggested some questions that the executives should put to Republicans. One did, irritating Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who accused Democrats of demagoguing the issue at tech leaders’ afternoon meeting with about a dozen GOP senators.
Things didn’t go much smoother in the House. In a meeting with Republicans, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Whip Kevin McCarthy of California hit the right talking points on high-skilled immigration, but they did little to convince tech leaders they were serious about reform. “Cantor chimed in and said, ‘This is an important issue, and there’s bipartisan agreement, and we want to get something done,’ ” said a tech-industry leader who attended the meeting. “It was very much a platitude.”
In the same meeting, Chaffetz told the executives to go talk to Grassley. It drove home the message from lawmakers: It’s not our fault. Talk to the other guy.
Tech leaders don’t understand why House Republicans can’t persuade their Senate brethren to pass Chaffetz’s bill. “Grassley is holding your damn bill up. That’s where the CEOs were incredulous,” said another participant in the House GOP meeting.
Their frustration is understandable, but it also speaks to a major disconnect between Silicon Valley’s agile innovators and a politically hamstrung Congress that can barely keep the government afloat. “I love them. They’re my constituents,” said Lofgren of the tech lobby. “But their idea is that they’ll fly in some CEOs, spend a day, go back to the valley, and you’ll see them again next year.” These executives, accustomed to solving problems with the click of a mouse, are strangers in a land where decisions are years in the making and influence is accumulated over decades.
Tech leaders know they have to do more to engage Washington, particularly Republicans, who have traditionally enjoyed less political support from the liberal-leaning Silicon Valley than Democrats. TechNet is planning a major valley fundraiser for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky this spring. A major goal of the event will be pressing the Republican leader to urge Grassley to lift his hold on the Chaffetz bill. The organization is also talking to former Hewlett-Packard chief executive and Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina about building stronger relationships with congressional Republicans.
As Ramsey put it, “We’ve got to transcend the traditions and dysfunction that we’ve fallen into. And I’ve never heard more unanimity on an issue than this issue.”
NO WAY IN
“Dojo” means “place of the way” in Japanese. But right now, ClassDojo cofounders Chaudhary and Don don’t seem to have a way forward. Even if the Chaffetz bill were to suddenly clear the Senate, it would be of no use to them.
Until now, the start-up had been building momentum. ClassDojo’s big break arrived in May of last year, via a Skype interview from London with Imagine K12, a Silicon Valley business incubator founded by former Google and Yahoo executives. ClassDojo was among 10 start-ups chosen to receive about $20,000 in seed money, along with mentoring and introductions to local talent. The offer was contingent on relocating to California. Two weeks later, 90-day visas in hand, Chaudhary and Don were on a plane to America.
“Entrepreneurs don’t take jobs away from Americans. By definition, we are creating jobs,” Chaudhary said. “Besides, there isn’t a fixed pool of Americans. Find the smartest, most creative people in the world and make them Americans.”
Chaudhary is tall, with a British accent, scruffy chin, and hipster glasses. He obsesses about going to the gym, uses expensive shampoo, and tries to eat lean protein and fresh fruit when he is not ordering takeout from his neighborhood deli. He is ridiculously talented. He graduated with honors in in economics at Cambridge University, where he rowed and played water polo, rugby, volleyball, and basketball. He passed up an offer from an investment-banking firm to teach high school for a semester. After two years at a prestigious consulting firm, he left to start ClassDojo. Don, equally brilliant, walked away from offers of music-recording contracts and a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Durham.
ClassDojo operates like a virtual version of the grade-school sticker chart. A teacher awards students points for good conduct throughout the school day by computer. The student’s name, along with a credit in the appropriate category—generosity, participation, insight, hard work, persistence, creativity—appear on a screen for all the class to see. At the end of the week, the software calculates the number of points each student lost or gained in each category, creating a detailed progress report sent home to parents.