FTC chief defends tenure as lawmakers battle over consumer agency’s impact

WASHINGTON, July 13 (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 legal battles over multibillion-dollar mergers that the agency opposed and lost.

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

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

“We fight hard when we think there was an offence, and unfortunately things don’t always go our way,” Khan replied.

— Do you bring cases you expect to lose? Kiley asked later.

“Absolutely not,” Khan said.

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

Representative Darrell Issa, a Republican, strongly disagreed with Khan the FTC’s decision to continue its fight against Illumina’s ( ILMN.O ) purchase of Grail ( GRAL.O ) after an internal FTC judge disagreed with the FTC commissioners. This challenge was originally brought under the Trump administration and is currently before an appeals court.

The agency also lost its battle to stop Facebook parent Meta Platforms ( META.O ) from buying VR content maker Within Unlimited.

Democrats on the committee sought to defend Khan, sometimes with Republicans on the panel including Rep. Ken Buck.

The White House also released a statement supporting Khan.

“Director 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. However, Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican, was concerned that small business investors are losing their exit strategies. The way you run the FTC, he told her, “you’re not only trying to kill deals in the boardroom, you’re also killing small businesses that are still in their infancy, you want startups to seek an IPO instead of an acquisition, but the cost of entering the public markets has doubled since the 1990s.”

The agency has upcoming legal battles aimed at stopping Intercontinental Exchange’s ( ICE.N ) $13.1 billion deal for Black Knight and Amgen’s AMGN.O purchase of Horizon Therapeutics for $27.8 billion.

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

Khan defended the agency’s actions, saying the FTC requests were motivated by a desire to ensure Twitter followed privacy rules and added 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 US economy was a problem the agency was tackling. “At the end of the day, Chairman Khan, you will face attack today for doing your job. That’s what threatens Republicans,” Nadler added.

Reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Bill Berkrot, Andrea Ricci and Alexandra Hudson

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Focused on US antitrust as well as corporate regulation and legislation, with experience covering war in Bosnia, elections in Mexico and Nicaragua, as well as stories from Brazil, Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Nigeria and Peru.

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