FTC chair defends tenure as lawmakers battle over consumer agency's impact

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Lina Khan, the progressive head of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), faced tough questions on Thursday from a Republican-led House committee about court fights over multi-billion dollar mergers the agency opposed and lost.

FILE PHOTO: FTC Commissioner nominee Lina M. Khan testifies during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on the nomination of Former Senator Bill Nelson to be NASA administrator, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 21, 2021. Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The hearing before the House Judiciary Committee came just two days after a tough loss when a federal judge ruled that Microsoft could go forward with its $69 billion deal to buy “Call of Duty” maker Activision Blizzard. The agency has said that it would appeal.

Representative Kevin Kiley, Republican from California, asked Khan about the cases that the agency had lost.

“We fight hard when we believe there was a law violation, and unfortunately things don’t always go our way,” responded Khan.

“Are you bringing cases you expect to lose?” Kiley asked later.

“Absolutely not,” Khan said.

“Okay well your track record seems to suggest otherwise,” he answered.

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Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican, sternly disagreed with the Khan FTC’s decision to press on with a fight against Illumina’s purchase of Grail after an FTC internal judge disagreed with FTC commissioners. That challenge was initially brought under the Trump administration and is currently before an appeals court.

The agency also lost a fight to stop Facebook parent Meta Platforms from buying VR content maker Within Unlimited.

Democrats on the committee sought to defend Khan, occasionally joined by Republicans on the panel including Rep. Ken Buck.

The White House also put out a statement backing Khan.

“Chair Khan has delivered results for families, consumers, workers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs,” said White House Press Secretary Michael Kikukawa, citing efforts including the agency’s bid to ban non-compete agreements and mergers that would harm consumers.

Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, however, worried about investors in small businesses losing their exit strategies. The way you are running the FTC, he told her, “you’re not simply trying to kill deals in the boardroom, you’re also killing small businesses still in the crib, you want startups to seek an IPO rather than acquisition but the cost of entering the public markets has doubled since the 1990s.”

The agency has upcoming legal fights aimed at stopping Intercontinental Exchange’s $13.1 billion deal for Black Knight and Amgen’s purchase of Horizon Therapeutics for $27.8 billion.

Chairman Jim Jordan called Khan’s tenure at the agency a “disaster,” pointing in particular to a probe of billionaire Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, which the Republican has argued was an overreach.

Khan defended the agency’s actions, saying that the FTC requests were motivated by a desire to ensure that Twitter complied with its privacy rules and adding that Twitter “has a history of lax security and privacy policies.”

The top Democrat on the committee, Jerry Nadler, sought to defend Khan, arguing that concentration in certain areas of the U.S. economy was a problem that the agency was tackling. “Ultimately Chair Khan, you will face attacks today because you are doing your job. That is what threatens Republicans,” added Nadler.

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