Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan is rallying support for the Biden administration’s plan for tougher policing of business mergers while congressional investigations of her work heat up.
Ms. Khan spoke to liberal groups on Thursday about the FTC and Justice Department’s desired overhaul of the enforcement handbook for more aggressive scrutinizing of business transactions.
“It’s the job of our agencies to really be screening for the types of deals that can have those negative effects [and] to make sure that we’re having an economy … characterized by open and fair competition,” Ms. Khan said at an event with the liberal American Economic Liberties Project.
Ms. Khan has targeted Big Tech companies over antitrust concerns without much success, failing to block mergers initiated by Microsoft and Facebook’s parent company Meta. Last month, a federal judge stymied the FTC’s push to kill Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
Some policymakers are wondering if Ms. Khan is deliberately losing the cases to make an antitrust overhaul of federal law appear necessary.
Rep. Kevin Kiley, California Republican, questioned Ms. Khan in July about whether she was intentionally failing to foist liberal priorities on lawmakers.
“You’re actually bringing the cases,” Mr. Kiley said at a Judiciary Committee hearing. “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 — by exceeding the authority that you now have?”
“We only bring lawsuits where we believe there is a law violation,” Ms. Khan replied. “We fight hard when we believe that there is a law violation and unfortunately things don’t always go our way.”
Ms. Khan and the FTC are under investigation by three House committees: Judiciary, Energy and Commerce Committee and the Oversight and Accountability committees.
Lawmakers are concerned about massive staff departures under Ms. Khan’s leadership. They also question her judgment.
No Republican-appointed commissioners remain at the FTC and more than 120 employees have exited the independent regulatory agency since Ms. Khan’s 2021 confirmation, according to the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Ms. Khan said Thursday that the remaining employees are critical to her work drafting merger rules to replace existing guidelines.
“We work closely with our staff to make sure we were fully pressure testing these guidelines as we’re thinking about, to avoid any unintended consequences,” Ms. Khan said.
The Biden administration is accepting public comment on its new merger rules as it refines the proposal during the next month.
Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter said at Thursday’s event that forthcoming enforcement will be consistent with the laws passed by Congress.
“It’s really important that we break free from some of these boxes or narrow rigid structures that we’ve put ourselves in but that the law doesn’t necessarily require us to do,” Mr. Kanter said.
Mr. Kanter, who oversees the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said the Biden administration does not intend to kill every business transaction but wants to provide clear boundaries for businesses.
“We are not blocking every merger. We can’t,” Mr. Kanter said. “We only block the ones that violate the law.”