FTC Chair Lina Khan Faces Criticism in Congressional Hearing

Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, faced more than three hours of criticism and ridicule from Republicans in a House hearing on Thursday, as emboldened critics increasingly put pressure on the agency for its crackdown on the growing power of tech giants.

During the highly partisan hearing, Republicans accused Ms. Khan, 34, who has carried out an aggressive agenda of lawsuits and investigations against tech companies, of “harassing” businesses. The lawmakers, who repeatedly cut off Ms. Khan midsentence, also ridiculed her for the F.T.C.’s recent losses in antitrust cases and for wasting government resources.

“You are now 0 for 4 in merger trials,” Representative Kevin Kiley, Republican of California, said at the House Judiciary Committee hearing. “Why are you losing so much?”

The blistering session capped a bruising week that has brought greater scrutiny to the F.T.C. 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 tech case for the F.T.C. after another judge decided in May against its attempt to block Meta’s acquisition of a virtual reality app maker, Within.

Ms. Khan has become a lightning rod for her efforts to rein in corporate power and to give the F.T.C. more teeth in enforcement. Since President Biden picked her to lead the agency two years ago, she has said the F.T.C. was too complacent and needed to pursue more lawsuits against companies, even if it did not always win. Even in court losses, she has said, the cases expose the need to update antitrust laws for the digital age.

In Thursday’s hearing, Ms. Khan, a legal scholar, said she didn’t bring cases that she thought would lose. But without referring to the Microsoft case, she acknowledged the risks of her strategy.

“We fight hard when we believe there was a law violation, and unfortunately things don’t always go our way,” Ms. Khan said.

The losses have not weakened her focus on the tech industry. On Thursday, the F.T.C. filed to appeal the court decision on Microsoft’s deal with Activision. Also this week, it opened an investigation into the artificial intelligence start-up, OpenAI, which makes the ChatGPT chatbot, for potentially harming consumers with privacy and security lapses and for spreading false information about individuals.

The White House reiterated its support for Ms. Khan on Thursday. “Chair Khan has delivered results for families, consumers, workers, small businesses and entrepreneurs,” Michael Kikukawa, a White House assistant press secretary, said in a statement.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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