“Antitrust is shaping up to be a significant battleground, with enormous consequences for Big Tech, consumers and society. If President Biden nominates Hesse to be the Administration’s top antitrust official, what message will the President be sending?”
Yesterday, Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX-24) sent a letter to President Joe Biden explaining her concerns over recent reports that the leading candidate for the top antitrust post at the Department of Justice (DOJ) is likely to go to long time Democratic antitrust official Renata Hesse, who served in the DOJ Antitrust Division during the Obama Administration as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General and as Acting Assistant Attorney General. Hesse, who has gone in and out of government, has represented both Google and Amazon, companies that are facing antitrust scrutiny from the DOJ, European Union and dozens of state Attorneys General.
A Plea to Reconsider
“I would hope that both sides of the aisle would be troubled by how this severe expansion in market dominance has emboldened Big Tech companies to behave and I remain optimistic that Republicans and Democrats can work together to address these concerns,” wrote Rep. Van Duyne, a first term Republican who previously served as Mayor of Irving, Texas and was an official in the Trump Department of Housing and Urban Development. “It is because of the bipartisan promise in potentially addressing Big Tech’s power that I was disappointed to read reports that you may appoint Renata Hesse, a former lawyer for Google and Amazon, to oversee the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust division.”
Van Duyne explained in her letter to President Biden that she does not doubt Hesse as a lawyer, but rather that she is “deeply concerned her experience fighting for Big Tech’s ability to exercise market dominance to engage in massive acquisitions and anticompetitive practices will undermine her ability to neutrally oversee DOJ’s enforcement of antitrust laws.”
Ultimately, Van Duyne encouraged President Biden to reconsider the reportedly imminent nomination of Hesse because the enforcement of antitrust laws will be necessary in the pursuit to protect free speech and “address the ballooning influence of Big Tech” over society.
Antitrust is a Bipartisan Battleground
While elections no doubt have consequences, and President Biden is virtually certain to ignore the pleas of Rep. Van Duyne as he makes his nominations, he may find it more difficult to ignore the populist wing of his own party, many of whom would like to see more, not less, antitrust enforcement during his term in Office.
To wit: Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who is the new Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, on Thursday unveiled a sweeping antitrust reform package that would significantly increase the antitrust enforcement budgets of the DOJ and Federal Trade Commission. “You can’t take on trillion-dollar companies with Band-Aids and duct tape,” Klobuchar said. Klobuchar also specifically identified the monopoly problem “headlined by what is happening with tech.”
The Klobuchar antitrust bill would present significant challenges for tech firms such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and others. As the Wall Street Journal explains: “the bill says that if a dominant firm engages in conduct that deprives other companies of the chance to compete, judges should presume that behavior is anticompetitive unless the big company can prove otherwise.” With a full court press coming from the top Senate Democrat on antitrust matters, one has to wonder whether Hesse would be out of step with the non-tech aligned progressive wing of the Democratic party.
Antitrust is shaping up to be a significant battleground, with enormous consequences for Big Tech, consumers and society. If President Biden nominates Hesse to be the Administration’s top antitrust official, what message will the President be sending? That is a good question, indeed, given that Hesse would undoubtedly have to recuse herself from matters dealing directly with Google or Amazon, which may well become the most pressing and important issues facing the DOJ Antitrust Division over the next four years.
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