Lena Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, faced more than three hours of criticism and jeers from Republicans at a House hearing Thursday, as emboldened critics put increasing pressure on the agency for its crackdown on the growing power of the tech giants.
During the highly partisan hearing, Republicans accused Ms. Khan, 34, who has pursued an aggressive agenda of lawsuits and investigations against tech companies, of “harassing” the companies. Lawmakers, who have repeatedly cut Ms. Khan out of middlemen, have also derided her over recent FTC losses in antitrust cases and waste of government resources.
“You’re now 0 to 4 in merger trials,” Rep. Kevin Kelly, R-Calif., told the House Judiciary Committee hearing. “Why do you lose so much?”
The acrimonious session capped off a bruising week that led to more scrutiny at the FTC. It was Ms Khan’s first public appearance since a judge ruled on Tuesday against the agency’s attempt to stop Microsoft’s $70 billion acquisition of Activision. It was a major defeat in a Federal Trade Commission tech case after another judge in May decided against its bid to block Meta’s acquisition of the virtual reality app maker, V.
Ms. Khan has become a lightning rod for her efforts to rein in corporate power and give the Federal Trade Commission more enforcement power. Since President Biden picked her to lead the agency two years ago, she said the FTC has been too complacent and needs to pursue more lawsuits against the companies, even if they don’t always win. Even in court losses, she said, the cases reveal the need to update antitrust laws for the digital age.
At Thursday’s hearing, Ms. Khan, a legal scholar, said she did not file cases she thought she would lose. Without pointing out Microsoft’s case, however, she acknowledged the dangers of her strategy.
“We fight very hard when we think there is a breach of the law and unfortunately things don’t always go our way,” said Ms Khan.
The losses did not dampen its focus on the tech industry. On Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed an appeal of the court’s decision regarding Microsoft’s deal with Activision. Also this week, it opened an investigation into AI startup OpenAI, which makes the ChatGPT chatbot, for potentially harming consumers through privacy and security holes and spreading false information about individuals.
On Thursday, the White House renewed its support for Ms Khan. “President Khan has delivered results for families, consumers, workers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs,” Michael Kikukawa, assistant White House press secretary, said in a statement.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.