Lina Khan, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, was criticized and ridiculed by Republicans for more than three hours during a hearing in the House of Representatives on Thursday.
At the highly partisan hearing, Republicans accused Ms Khan, who has been pursuing an aggressive agenda of lawsuits and investigations against tech companies, of “intimidating” companies. The legislators, Mrs. Khan repeatedly interrupted in mid-sentence also ridiculed her for the FTC’s recent losses in antitrust cases and for wasting government resources.
“You are now 0 to 4 in merger litigation,” Rep. Kevin Kiley, a California Republican, said at the House Judiciary Committee hearing. “Why are you losing so much?”
The blistering session capped off a bloody week that has given the FTC more scrutiny. It was Ms Khan’s first public appearance since a judge on Tuesday ruled against the agency’s attempt to halt Microsoft’s $70 billion acquisition of Activision. It was a major defeat in a tech case for the FTC after another judge in May ruled against his attempt to block Meta’s acquisition of virtual reality app maker Within.
Ms. Khan, a legal scholar, has become a lightning rod for her efforts to rein in corporate power and give the FTC more teeth in enforcement. Since President Biden selected her to run the agency two years ago, she has said the FTC was too complacent and should file more lawsuits against companies, even if it didn’t always win. Even with court losses, she said, the cases demonstrate the need to update antitrust laws for the digital age.
Ms Khan’s aggressive agenda, which spans sectors other than technology, has thrown the agency into turmoil, where two Republican commissioners and several senior officials have resigned. Christine Wilson, one of the former Republican members, accused Ms Khan of abusing her power as chairperson. This month, Mr. Biden nominated Virginia attorney general Andrew Ferguson and Utah attorney Melissa Holyoak to fill the Republican seats.
At Thursday’s hearing, Ms. Khan, 34, unperturbed. She highlighted the FTC’s challenges to mergers in the pharmaceutical, semiconductor, defense and energy markets. Many of those challenges did not go to court.
She said she hadn’t filed any cases she thought would lose, but without referring to the Microsoft case, she acknowledged the risks of her strategy.
“We fight hard when we think there was a violation of the law, and unfortunately things don’t always go the way we want,” said Ms. Khan.
The losses have not weakened its focus on the tech industry. On Thursday, the FTC appealed the court’s decision on Microsoft’s deal with Activision. Also this week, it opened an investigation into the artificial intelligence start-up OpenAI, which creates the ChatGPT chatbot, for potentially harming consumers with privacy and security flaws and for spreading false information about individuals.
It could take years for Ms. Khan’s strategy to bear fruit, said Megan Gray, an attorney and former member of the FTC staff. “She knows this is a long-term effort and not a Pollyanna new antitrust campaign,” Ms Gray said.
The White House on Thursday reiterated its support for Khan. “Chair Khan has delivered results for families, consumers, workers, small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Michael Kikukawa, assistant White House press secretary, said in a statement.
At the hearing, this week’s court loss provided more ammunition for Republicans in their complaints against the FTC
Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican of California, criticized Ms. Khan’s judgment in pursuing the case to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision. Regulators rarely bring cases against so-called vertical mergers of two companies that are not in direct competition. Such was the case with Microsoft, a console maker, and Activision, a video game maker. And Sony, Microsoft’s competitor, has a large market share, Issa said.
He also criticized the FTC for pursuing a case to stop pharmaceutical giant Illumina from merging with cancer testing maker Grail after a judge in the agency’s internal court disagreed with his fight to close the deal. prevent.
“My problem here today is that you’re a bully,” Mr. Issa said. “The reality is we are a global market, and you only think about who you want for one reason or another. And I can’t find your logic.
Representative Jim Jordan, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, accused the agency of “harassing” Twitter in its investigation of the company’s security practices. Jordan, who has accused Democrats of censoring Republican views, has praised Twitter owner Elon Musk for easing restrictions on speech.
“My concern is the continued attack on Twitter as ownership changed there,” Jordan said.
Ms. Khan replied, “We at the FTC have no opinion on who should or shouldn’t own a company. All we care about is that the company follows the law.”
Democrats defended Ms Khan.
New York Representative Jerrold Nadler, the committee’s chief Democrat, said the FTC’s job was to investigate Twitter for violating a consent decree it agreed to more than a decade ago after previous security breaches.
“Unfortunately, I expect that today you will be the target of a barrage of personal attacks and wild allegations about the work of the FTC under your leadership,” Mr. Nadler said.