President Donald Trump intends to nominate Joe Simons, a Longtime Antitrust Lawyer who has represented tech companies like Microsoft, as the next chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, a White House official confirmed on Wednesday.
Trump also plans to announce his candidate to fill the open, Democratic slot at the FTC: Rohit Chopra, a Democratic ally of Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Both nominees must still win confirmation by the U.S. Senate, where federal lawmakers — particularly Democrats — have expressed fresh fears about the power and reach of the tech industry.
The FTC has a hand in reviewing major mergers, scrutinizing companies’ business practices, protecting online privacy and data security and otherwise policing the corporate world for unfair and deceptive acts or practices. Under its current, acting chairman — Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican, whom Trump has bypassed for the permanent gig — the agency recently has penalized Uber for misusing its customers’ data and blocked a merger of FanDuel and DraftKings, two daily fantasy sports sites.
To that end, Simons and Chopra may face a tough grilling from those in Congress would like to see the watchdog agency set its sights on tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, Google and others.
Simons, for his part, served at the FTC as the leader of its Bureau of Competition from 2001 to 2003. He is currently a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where he previously has represented Rockstar — a coalition of Microsoft, Ericsson, RIM and Sony that sought to purchase patents from Nortel Networks for $4.5 billion. He’s also aided companies including Sharp Corporation and Mastercard.
In Simons, Trump has telegraphed once again that his rhetoric — promising to break up big companies, particularly in media and telecom — is unlikely to shape his government’s own antitrust policy.
And Chopra, a Democrat, is a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America. Before arriving at the watchdog group, he served as an assistant director at the U.S. government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he focused on student lending. Warren and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer had recommended Chopra to Trump for the post. (Typically, lawmakers in the minority party are granted great deference in submitting candidates for their slots on commissions like the FTC.)
Chopra, if confirmed, would join Commissioner Terrell McSweeny as the FTC’s two Democratic members. McSweeny, however, could leave the commission in the coming months, so Trump may soon face another vacancy to fill at the agency.
Not on the list: Sean Reyes, the Utah attorney general who at one point had been seen as a candidate to lead the FTC. In the months after his name first surfaced, he appeared to fall out of favor at the White House. That amounts to a win for Google, given the fact Reyes previously had advocated for an antitrust probe of the search giant.
And sources still expect Trump to tap Noah Phillips, a congressional aide, as a Republican commissioner to round out the five-member agency. Phillips is currently the chief counsel to Sen. John Cornyn on the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, where he advises his Republican boss on antitrust and privacy. He also has spent time in private practice, focused on civil litigation at firms like Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
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