Antitrust crusader Tim Wu likely landing in the White HouseFebruary 23, 2021
Presented by American Edge Project
With help from Ryan Lizza, Leah Nylen and John Hendel
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— Scoop: Antitrust crusader Tim Wu is likely to join the White House National Economic Council, narrowing the pool for who could take the FTC’s two open slots.
— Garland confirmation hearings, part II: Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, has pledged to be an aggressive antitrust enforcer. What will other witnesses tell the Senate about him?
— Third time’s a charm: Microsoft President Brad Smith is testifying before Congress three times this week, calling first for a clear strategy to adopt emerging tech like AI, 5G and quantum in U.S. defense.
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PLAYBOOK SCOOP: WU TO THE WHITE HOUSE? — Wu, the Columbia University professor and antitrust crusader who coined the term “net neutrality,” is likely to join the White House National Economic Council, according to sources familiar with the move.
— Bio in brief: Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age,” and a hero to progressives who want Biden to take a more aggressive approach to Big Tech. Wu previously served on the NEC at the end of the Obama administration and has been discussed as a potential Biden pick to fill one of two vacancies on the FTC and perhaps also be elevated to the agency’s chair.
— The view from Washington: POLITICO’s chief Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza checked in with activists watching Biden’s antitrust moves carefully and they see Wu’s return to the White House as signaling one of two possibilities:
One, that Biden is building momentum for an administration that is tough on tech and will fill more crucial positions with policymakers in line with Wu’s views.
Or two, that it’s a bone to the left before Biden picks more industry-friendly officials in those other jobs.
The bigger test will come when Biden fills the FTC slots and chooses an assistant attorney general for antitrust, who, among other things, will help decide whether the Justice Department continues its case against Google.
A Biden source said the Wu move to NEC is “likely but not yet done." Wu did not return messages seeking comment and hung up on Ryan when reached on his cell phone. More here in this morning’s Playbook from Ryan and Leah Nylen, POLITICO’s antitrust and investigations reporter.
FACEBOOK REACHES DEAL DOWN UNDER OVER NEWS CONTENT — The social network late Monday announced it had reached an agreement with the Australian government to “restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days.” More on the update here from Facebook’s head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown.
GARLAND HEARINGS, DAY TWO — The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on Garland’s nomination to be attorney general continue this morning. And although today’s session will be devoted to witnesses for and against Garland, antitrust aficionados will be watching closely: He did, after all, tell senators Monday that antitrust holds a special place in his heart.
“My first love in law school was, in fact, antitrust,” the judge said. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly referred to the antitrust law as the charter of American economic liberty and I deeply believe that.” (Here’s hoping he’d already had that conversation with his wife, Lynn Rosenman Garland, who was seated behind him at the hearing.)
As a student, Garland studied under the famed antitrust expert Phillip Areeda, whose treatise on antitrust is one of the most cited. Garland also worked with Robert Pitofsky, the legendary FTC chair under former President Bill Clinton. (Here’s what else to know about Garland’s tech background.)
— During his questioning Monday, the AG-designee pledged that he would “absolutely” enforce the antitrust laws vigorously, and though he declined to discuss much of the Justice Department’s case against Google, Garland said he intends for it to move forward. And while Biden hasn’t yet named an antitrust chief, Garland shared that it won’t be his longtime friend Susan Davies, as Leah reported on Monday.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON — The Microsoft chief is testifying not one, not two, but three times before Congress this week — twice before the Senate today, and then before the House on Friday at a hearing on the role of tech in the SolarWinds hack.
— Smith is speaking this morning alongside former Google CEO Eric Schmidt at a Senate Armed Services hearing on the role of emerging technologies in national security. His testimony is expected to focus on how 5G, artificial intelligence and quantum can transform U.S. defense, and the need for a clear strategy to help the Pentagon take advantage of those technologies.
“Speed matters,” Smith says in his written statement, shared early with MT. “The United States must move more quickly to advance broad-based technology innovation and pursue new approaches to use, secure, and adapt commercial advances for military applications. … It will require an even closer partnership between the government and the tech sector.” (This new RealClearInvestigations story examines the revolving door between Washington’s defense world and Silicon Valley.)
— And after lunch: Smith will testify at a Senate Intel Committee hearing on the SolarWinds hack, where he’ll outline what Microsoft has gleaned about the breach and the path forward to improve U.S. cybersecurity, strengthen the country’s software supply chains and update IT infrastructure.
GOP DECRIES DEMOCRATS’ BID AT TV ‘CENSORSHIP’ — Republicans are aghast at two House Energy and Commerce Democrats’ letters to TV providers probing their decision to carry right-leaning networks Fox News, Newsmax and One America News. Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney of California questioned what they called election- and pandemic-related misinformation on these networks, as John reported Monday.
— “This is a chilling transgression of the free speech rights that every media outlet in this country enjoys,” said GOP FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, accusing Democrats of “a marked departure from these First Amendment norms” that inappropriately draws in government pressures. “I call on my FCC colleagues to join me in publicly denouncing this attempt to stifle political speech and independent news judgment.” (Spokespeople for acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel did not comment.) Republican Commissioner Nathan Simington also outlined concerns.
— House E&C Republicans are also unsettled: A GOP committee aide described the letter as “flirting with violating the First Amendment” and said “this censorship campaign should alarm every single journalist and member of the media.” (Not long ago, Democrats were the ones crying censorship when former President Donald Trump sought an FCC clampdown on broadcasters over their newscasts.)
— Watch for the debate to escalate during Wednesday’s E&C hearing on cable and broadcast misinformation (although no one from the three networks is listed among the witnesses).
ONE STEP CLOSER TO COVID BROADBAND AID, AS THE CLOCK RUNS OUT — Rosenworcel on Monday circulated her proposal for how the FCC would administer the $3.2 billion from the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which would help subsidize internet service for households affected by Covid by up to $50 each month.
— But first comes the voting: Rosenworcel will need votes from at least two of her FCC colleagues, including at least one Republican, to advance the plan. (All commissioners have broadly lauded the proposed program’s goals, but they have differing priorities as far as how to structure it.) Congress reserved this big chunk of cash in its December pandemic deal and gave the FCC 60 days to set up its rules, meaning the commission must finalize plans in a matter of days.
Former GOP Rep. Greg Walden, who recently retired from Congress, is launching a new policy and advisory firm, Alpine Advisors, in partnership with the Washington government affairs firm Alpine Group. Walden’s work will focus on tech and telecom, among other sectors.
Alan Butler, who has served as interim executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center since last spring, will in March become its executive director. … Allison Miller, who previously led information security work at Bank of America, was appointed Reddit’s new CISO and vice president of trust. … floLIVE, which provides 5G network solutions, joined the Competitive Carriers Association.
Adobe, Intel, Microsoft and Truepic are among the tech and media companies banding together to form the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, a group focused on fighting mis- and disinformation and online content fraud by creating an “end-to-end, open standard for tracing the origin and evolution of digital content.”
Where is Bezos off to next? He may be getting into the football scene, Front Office Sports reports.
Blog OTD: “How the disinformation supply chain created a deceptive narrative about the Texas blackout,” via The German Marshall Fund.
See ya: “Google will lift its ban on political ads on Wednesday, ending a self-imposed prohibition that had been active since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol,” POLITICO reports. “The tech giant had also banned political ads on its platforms, including YouTube and Google search pages, after the 2020 election as part of a broader effort to clamp down on political misinformation.”
Covid, pregnancy and the internet: The pandemic has been a particularly isolating experience for new and expecting moms, and social media is making it worse, WSJ reports.
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