Lina Khan’s debut appearance before a GOP-controlled committee immediately descended into partisan sniping Thursday, with lawmakers looking to score political points on each other while taking shots as the Federal Trade Commission’s embattled chair.
Khan’s role as one of the Biden administration’s most progressive leaders made her the direct target of partisan bickering over the agency’s alleged overreach and waste of taxpayer funding in recent court losses. Though Khan is unlikely to back down in the face of GOP attacks, Congress can impact her ability to fulfill her wide-ranging goals by restricting the agency’s budget.
“My problem is that you’re a bully,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “You run this organization and its left turn came when you took over.”
Issa, along with other Republicans, criticized Khan’s budget request for a $160 million increase as Congress begins considering the FTC’s FY 2024 budget, which the GOP has proposed cutting by more than 25 percent.
“I would contend that you have overstepped your boundaries and your half-billion dollar budget is being wasted,” Issa said. “And I for one will not support your $160 million dollar increase as long as you do not stick to those things that you do well.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), was quick to defend Khan. “Today, it is the chair of the Federal Trade Commission’s turn to step into the alternate universe that is the House Judiciary Committee under MAGA Republican leadership,” he said. “Ultimately, today you’ll face attacks because you’re doing your job, and that is what threatens Republicans the most.”
Outside the political theatrics, Rep. Kevin Kiley, (R-Calif.) asked Khan about her losing streak in the FTC’s merger and acquisition cases, referencing its loss earlier this week in its attempt to stop Microsoft’s takeover of Activision Blizzard. “You’re 0-4 in merger trials,” he said. “Why is your track record so poor when it comes to actually winning cases?”
Khan responded that the agency has had court wins, including a case against the so-called “Pharma Bro,” Martin Shkreli.
“Are you bringing cases that you expect to lose?” Kiley asked.
“Absolutely not,” Khan responded.
“Well your track record seems to suggest otherwise,” he said.
Kiley was critical of Khan’s past statements that he described as willing to bring losing cases in order to prompt Congress to update the antitrust laws. “You’re actually bringing the cases, you’re losing because you don’t have the authority that you want from Congress, so this is how you think you’re going to persuade Congress to give you more authority, is by exceeding the authority that you now have?”
Overall though, Khan was criticized over her alleged mismanagement of the agency, perceived ethical violations and attacks on big business, especially Elon Musk and Twitter, and whether she is using her position to advance a partisan progressive agenda — all key Republican attack points on the Biden administration.
“This wasn’t harassment, it was a shakedown,” Jordan said of FTC’s open investigation into Musk’s actions since buying Twitter, which the agency claims may have violated an existing privacy settlement with the agency. Jordan’s Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee issued a report in March summarizing more than a dozen letters from the FTC to Musk that he claimed show the investigation was partisan.
On Thursday, Twitter’s parent company X Corp asked a federal court overseeing its settlement to either throw it out entirely or put it on hold until the FTC turns over documents to Twitter outlining its bias against the company. Twitter is also seeking to bar the agency from deposing CEO Elon Musk.
Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) chastised Khan for ignoring advice from the FTC’s internal ethics officer to recuse from its case challenging Meta’s acquisition of a virtual reality app.
“It is unbelievable to me that you would not ask for written advice on this topic,” Hageman said. Khan said that she only received verbal guidance, and did not see a written memo — which ultimately held the recusal decision was hers alone — until it was reported in the press.
Khan responded repeatedly that she followed all ethical guidelines.
At issue is Khan’s decision to not recuse from the agency’s challenge to Meta’s virtual reality app deal. Former Republican FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson resigned earlier this year over the issue, and one of her staffers at the agency now works for Jordan. It was reported in recent weeks that Khan went against the agency’s informal ethics guidance that she recuse from the case over statements she made prior to joining the agency. Khan maintains she acted appropriately.