US FTC Republicans Wilson, Phillips will be replaced, but timeline depends on lawmakers

15 February 2023 23:37


The noisy resignation of the FTC’s sole remaining Republican commissioner, Christine Wilson, doesn’t immediately impact the functioning of the agency, which can operate with only three of its five members.

But it poses the question of how and when US President Joe Biden, the Senate Democratic leadership and Senate Republicans will fill the two open Republican slots at the FTC.

With no statutory requirements to fast-track the process, it could take some time – especially as Republicans themselves are split on the question of how aggressively the antitrust laws should be applied.

For the time being, Wilson remains a commissioner. Her excoriating criticism of Chair Lina Khan, who she accuses of abusing her power at the head of the agency, could set the tone for the debate when it eventually hits the Senate.

The precise timing of Wilson’s departure will likely affect the next steps lawmakers take. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will need to submit a nominee to replace her – and has already done so in the case of Noah Phillips, who resigned late last year, MLex understands.

There’s a possibility that Republicans alone will have trouble coalescing around candidates. Some Senate Republicans are bullish on antitrust enforcement, including Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who yesterday commented that he expects a candidate to replace Wilson who will vigorously enforce antitrust laws and hold monopolies accountable. Others, like Utah Senator Mike Lee, the top Republican on the Senate antitrust committee, have accused the agency of pushing a "progressive" agenda too far, and will likely favor more moderate candidates.

The political calculation is further complicated by Biden’s re-nomination of Democrat Rebecca Slaughter to serve a second term at the FTC. Slaughter’s first term has already expired, but FTC rules permit her to continue serving in the role.

Given the slim Democratic majority in the Senate, Slaughter’s future seems safe. Still, Democrats may find it expedient to roll Slaughter’s confirmation hearing up with one or both of the Republican candidates in a bid to lower the temperature.

How quickly they move in confirming new Republicans to the commission will have consequences. With the FTC now run solely by Democrats, it is no longer even formally a bipartisan body, something critics of Khan’s agenda will no doubt capitalize on.

Yesterday, former Republican Commissioner Joshua Wright suggested the process of confirming at least one Republican commissioner at the FTC may be expedited by Democrats to calm the waters. Former Republican Chair Bill Kovacic said the departure of Wilson, “a well-informed insider,” will only embolden the agency leadership with its trustbusting agenda.

Whatever political choices are ultimately made, if the process of confirming Democratic commissioner Alvaro Bedoya is anything to go by, we could be waiting a while. Eight months separated his nomination in September 2021 and his swearing in as a commissioner in May 2022.

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