On March 20, Bill Gates will meet with president Donald Trump. The agenda hasn’t been revealed, but the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hinted at what would be discussed in a statement:
“The foundation has a long history of working with officials on both sides of the aisle to pursue shared priorities like global health and development and domestic education. Bill will meet with congressional leaders and members of the administration to discuss the tremendous progress made to-date in these areas and the critical and indispensable role that the United States has played in achieving these gains.”
In the past, Gates has said that Trump has the opportunity to be like John F. Kennedy. “But in the same way President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that,” Gates said in an interview with CNBC, “I think whether it’s education or stopping epidemics … [or] in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that [Trump’s] administration [is] going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation.” Gates and Trump have already met once before in December at Trump Tower to discuss innovation.
Despite Trump’s appointing a climate-change denier to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gates optimistically predicted that investment in energy R&D would continue to be a bipartisan issue. Clean energy is among his personal causes: Late last year he established the $1 billion investment vehicle Breakthrough Energy Ventures, along with Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, and other business leaders.
Will he retain that optimism for tomorrow’s meeting? His tone changed on March 16, when the Gates Foundation said that it was “deeply troubled” by the president’s 2018 budget request, released that morning. The proposal included deep cuts to both the EPA and non-military overseas aid. The next day, Gates responded with an article on the Gates Notes blog, “How Foreign Aid Helps Americans.”
Gates is, however, among the few tech industry leaders still trying to talk to the president. Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick left Trump’s advisory council (paywall) in February after a backlash, and Silicon Valley leaders have been taking a more cautious stance since December’s meeting of select tech CEOs at Trump Tower. Gates, though, no longer leads Microsoft, so he doesn’t have to answer to employees or shareholders who might object to his having close ties with Trump.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is among those who continues to meet with the president—he, too, was bullish that he could influence Trump’s stance toward innovation. No word as yet whether the big funding cuts to scientific research on which American industry depends have blunted Musk’s enthusiasm.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Gates’s comments about Kennedy were made after his meeting with the then president-elect in New York. They were made before.