First Open F.T.C. Meeting Under Lina Khan Starts With Political Sparks

Ms. Khan, the agency’s chair, opened with a statement about the importance of transparency, but the two Republican commissioners pushed back on her approach.

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The first open meeting of the F.T.C. under Lina Khan starts with political sparks.

Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, is one of the foremost critics of Big Tech.Credit…Pool photo by Graeme Jennings

July 1, 2021, 8:24 a.m. ET

Lina Khan’s first meeting of the Federal Trade Commission revealed political friction and previewed the likely partisan battles to come. Ms. Khan took over as chair last month and made the agency’s monthly meetings open to the public, a major change.

Ms. Khan opened the meeting with a brief statement about the importance of transparency to both inform the public of the agency’s work and create a “robust participatory process.” The meeting included public comments for the first time.

Not all of the commissioners were pleased. Christine Wilson, a Republican, said she supported transparency but added that the new format excluded knowledgeable staff and limited discussion between the commissioners. She also complained that she learned of the change only last week. Ms. Wilson called the meeting “chaos” before voting no on a motion to pass a new “Made in the U.S.A.” rule for labels.

The labeling rule, introduced by Rohit Chopra, a Democratic commissioner, fortifies enforcement principles for those who “lie on labels,” he said. Mr. Chopra noted that the change would not create new obligations for manufacturers and did not apply to advertising. Mr. Chopra said the new rule would broaden the definition of a label to go beyond something that was physically affixed to a good and could apply online. The two Republican commissioners, Noah Phillips and Ms. Wilson, objected, saying that they supported strong enforcement for Made in U.S.A. labels, but that the proposed change would exceed the F.T.C.’s statutory authority.

The rule was approved by a three-to-two vote along party lines.

Democratic commissioners, led by Ms. Khan, also voted to rescind a 2015 policy statement on enforcement principles for certain “edge” competition cases. It was approved during the Obama administration by a bipartisan group of commissioners, and its presence on the meeting agenda was a signal that Ms. Khan intended to break with the past, said Bruce Hoffman, a partner at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb and a former director of the F.T.C.’s competition bureau.

Mr. Phillips objected to Ms. Khan’s proposition, arguing that it was unclear what guideline would replace the policy statement and there was no public comment period. He called the move to rescind without more public input “inconsistent with the rhetoric” about transparency.

The measure passed on party lines.

Mr. Chopra commended Ms. Khan and repeated a phrase he used earlier in the hearing, saying he welcomed the end of “prissy powerlessness” at the F.T.C.

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