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Big Tech critic Khan confirmed to join Federal Trade Commission

Khan says FTC missed opportunities to counter the rise of tech giants

Khan received bipartisan Senate support.
Khan received bipartisan Senate support. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Joe Biden’s nomination of antitrust scholar and Big Tech critic Lina Khan to serve on the Federal Trade Commission.

Khan, who most recently was an associate professor of law at Columbia University, was confirmed for the FTC post on a vote of 69-28, with 21 Republicans voting in her favor.

“This is a big win for consumers and the public interest,” Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “The strong bipartisan vote in her favor is both confirmation of her impeccable credentials and of the bipartisan interest in holding Big Tech accountable.”

Republican opponents such as Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Mike Lee of Utah previously raised concerns about Khan’s level of experience — she is 32 years old — and whether this should preclude her from a spot on the commission, which is responsible for enforcing consumer protection and competition laws.

“Ms. Khan no doubt has a promising career ahead of her, but being less than four years out of law school, she lacks the experience necessary for such an important role as FTC Commissioner,” Lee said in a statement in March. “Her views on antitrust enforcement are also wildly out of step with a prudent approach to the law.”

Besides Lee and Blackburn, Republicans who opposed the nomination included Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as well as Ted Cruz of Texas, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Rob Portman of Ohio and Deb Fischer of Nebraska were among the 21 Republicans who joined Democrats in clearing the nomination. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., didn’t vote.

Prior to her most recent position at Columbia, Khan was counsel to the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, where she helped lead an investigation of competition in the technology sector. The probe concluded that Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google all wield monopoly power in their respective online markets. Khan also previously was legal adviser to FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, a Democrat.

“The overwhelming support in the Senate for Lina Khan’s nomination to serve on the Federal Trade Commission is a big win for fair competition in our country,” Chopra said in a statement after the Senate vote. “There is a growing consensus that the FTC must turn the page on the failed policies spanning multiple administrations.”

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the nomination last month by voice vote, with four Republicans asking to be recorded as voting “no,” including Lee and Blackburn.

During a nomination hearing in April, Khan told the committee the FTC had missed recent opportunities to counter the rise of Big Tech firms by failing to properly review their mergers and acquisitions. She told senators she was in favor of the FTC’s pending antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, filed under former President Donald Trump and proceeding under Biden.

Khan backed multiple efforts by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., including a bipartisan bill that would exempt local news organizations from antitrust laws to allow them to collectively bargain with Google and Facebook for increased advertising revenue.

She also offered support for the bill Klobuchar and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, have introduced to increase merger filing fees in order to raise more money for the FTC’s enforcement budget. That measure has since been passed by the Senate as part of a comprehensive package aimed at boosting innovation and competition in America.

At her confirmation hearing, Khan also endorsed efforts by Sens. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to increase privacy protections for children online.

Khan first rose to prominence after writing an antitrust research paper focused on Amazon’s business conduct while attending Yale Law School. She argued Amazon engaged in anticompetitive practices that escaped U.S. antitrust scrutiny, including “predatory” pricing of goods or services at such a low level that rivals can’t compete. The paper also called for an overhaul of the U.S. antitrust approach to help regulators with reining in powerful tech platforms.

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