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Antitrust Needs ‘Good Look’

Grassley, Wicker Open to Ideas From Possible FTC Pick Khan

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Commerce Committee ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., are open to antitrust proposals from potential FTC nominee Lina Khan (see 2103120071), they told us this week. Khan’s antitrust views resulted in comparisons to Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. She has worked as a staffer for FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra and House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I.

If her views align with Klobuchar and Warren, “that wouldn’t affect me,” Grassley told us. “I've almost come to the conclusion that I’m going to take a good look at some of these antitrust laws.” Whether the FTC has a Republican or Democratic majority, Grassley said he’s “not very satisfied” with the amount of economic control a few corporations hold.

Asked about concerns that the 32-year-old Khan could potentially politicize antitrust policy, Wicker said, “It’s OK to share concerns, but in a way, I want to see if she’s onto something. ... She seems to be quite well-versed for someone her age. I’m interested in talking to her.”

Senate Commerce hasn’t received official word from the White House about Khan’s potential candidacy, Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., told us. “I only know what everybody else heard.” Khan has a “really strong” background, Cantwell said: Antitrust is “accentuated” on a lot of issues that are “right on the forefront” of policy discussions, she added: “It’s going to be an important role.”

Comments from Grassley and Wicker aren’t surprising, Cicilline told us: Khan "understands the threat that monopolists pose to our economy and to our democracy, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that my colleagues in the Senate are prepared to give her a fair opportunity to consider her candidacy.” He said she's an “incredibly thoughtful individual who understands antitrust” and “was a critical part of our investigation conducted by the subcommittee.”

House Antitrust Subcommittee ranking member Ken Buck, R-Colo., told us he had initial concerns about Vice President Kamala Harris’ ties to Silicon Valley. Khan’s background with Cicilline doesn’t give him pause about potential politicization. Cicilline has been “very open to finding common ground, and I really appreciate that,” Buck said. Some of Cicilline's views on unrelated issues are “nonstarters” with Republicans, but antitrust is “something where he’s been very open,” Buck added. “I hope that’s what” the nominee brings: policy based on common understanding.

She’s very well-qualified,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told us. “I’m in favor of aggressive and vigorous enforcement, and there should be nothing partisan about” antitrust policy.

The subcommittee plans its third antitrust hearing of the session Thursday. Witnesses are: acting FTC Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, FTC Commissioner Noah Phillips, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson (R), Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (D), 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood and U.K. Competition and Markets Authority Chief Economic Adviser Mike Walker.

There’s bipartisan concerns about how large some of the big tech companies have become and the impact that they’re having on our culture,” said House Commerce Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “It’s time for us to look at updating these laws.”

Privacy discussions remain inactive, Cantwell and Wicker each told us. “We’re getting out there, trying to solve a few other things first, and then we’ll return to that,” said Cantwell.