California Democrats clash over tech antitrust fight

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.)
Greg Nash

California Democrats are clashing with members of their party over a package of antitrust bills targeting the top tech companies in the country.

Democratic lawmakers from California on the House Judiciary Committee, particularly those representing tech-heavy Bay Area districts, voted against the majority of their colleagues over the past two days on five antitrust bills that seek to rein in the market power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.

The stiff opposition from the California delegation may cause further hurdles as the legislation heads to the House floor, with moderate and progressive Democrats, as well as prominent Republicans, voicing concern over the bills.

Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Eric Swalwell and Lou Correa — all from California — voted against advancing nearly every bill the committee marked up Wednesday and Thursday.

After the marathon two-day markup, they issued a joint statement with California Republican Reps. Tom McClintock and Darrell Issa criticizing the legislation that stemmed from a lengthy investigation by a House Judiciary subcommittee.

“The 16-month-long investigation conducted by the Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee rightfully scrutinized digital markets in an effort to remove barriers to competition. Unfortunately, the resulting legislative proposals – which the full Committee did not hold a hearing on or have reasonable time to fully consider – fell short of adequately addressing identified problems in an effective way that serves Americans’ interests,” the lawmakers said.

The only bill the three Democrats supported was legislation that would increase filing fees for mergers. A companion measure was recently included in the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act passed by the Senate earlier this month.

Issa and McClintock opposed the merger fee bill, as did most Republicans on the House committee.

Meanwhile, California Reps. Ted Lieu and Karen Bass, who have districts in less tech-dominant areas, voted with the majority of their Democratic colleagues on advancing the antitrust measures.

For most of the bills, which were introduced on June 11, Lofgren, Swalwell and Correa were the main Democratic detractors, though they were joined by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) in opposing a bill that would prohibit dominant platforms from self-preferencing their own services, as well as one that could lead to the break up of tech companies, a measure Lofgren called an “extreme remedy.”

“I think this bill is overbroad and will have serious adverse consequences for Americans,” Lofgren said of the legislation introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose district includes many Microsoft employees. 

The measure ultimately advanced on a 21-20 vote. Republican Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.), the ranking member of the antitrust subcommittee, and Matt Gaetz (Fla.) joined most Democrats in voting for the bill.

Even the least contentious bill — one that would ensure state attorneys general are able to remain in the court they select rather than having cases moved to venues preferred by defendants — drew opposition from some California lawmakers.

Of the seven “no” votes on the bill, five were California representatives: Lofgren, Swalwell, Correa, Issa and McClintock. They were joined by Republican Reps. Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Michelle Fisbhack (Minn.).

Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.), whose district covers much of Silicon Valley, has also criticized the bills, saying the legislation needs to be written in a “much more thoughtful, accurate way.”

“I think some of the people who wrote it don’t understand all the details of how these platforms work. I say this as someone who wants stronger antitrust enforcement,” Khanna said during a Fox Business interview Wednesday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) broke from her Bay Area colleagues in voicing support for the antitrust legislation at a Thursday press conference.

“There has been concern on both sides of the aisle about the consolidation of power of the tech companies and this legislation is an attempt to address that in the interest of fairness, in the interest of competition, in the interest of meeting needs of people who are whose privacy whose data and all the rest is at the mercy of these tech companies,” Pelosi said.

She also dismissed concerns raised by the tech companies lobbying against the legislation. The New York Times reported earlier this week that Apple CEO Tim Cook called Pelosi and other members warning that the bills were being rushed and could end up hurting consumers. Pelosi said Thursday that she told Cook to put forth any “substantive concern” as Congress moves ahead with the proposals.

“They can put forth what they want to put forth, but we’re not going to ignore the consolidation that has happened and the concern that exists on both sides of the aisle,” Pelosi said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in support of the bills, including the unlikely allies of Jayapal, Gaetz and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), have dismissed arguments that the legislation was rushed in any way, pointing to the 16-month bipartisan investigation into the market power of the four tech giants.

“I urge my colleagues to read the report,” Cicilline said.

He also called for members to read the “pleas from small businesses” that are “begging them to do something.”

It’s unclear when the bills will head to the House floor for a vote, but centrist Democrats are already putting pressure on Pelosi to pump the brakes and have the committee hold hearings before proceeding to a House vote. Opposition from moderate Democrats along with members of the California delegation could prove problematic and risk dividing the party publicly in a floor vote.

Jayapal, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she’d like to see a vote as soon as possible, though she acknowledged it likely won’t happen until September.

Despite pushback from some members of her party, Jayapal said she thinks the bills can pass the House, especially if the subcommittee’s report is highlighted.

“I think we’re looking to make sure we can give people the information we need to show them the bipartisan way that we did this, to show them kind of the detailed testimony we got, and the effects on small businesses and why this is important,” she told The Hill.

“I think we can get there. This is a really important piece of the Democratic party’s agenda and I also think, as you see, that there’s a lot of bipartisan support.”

Tags antitrust Big tech California Democrats Darrell Issa David Cicilline Eric Swalwell Greg Stanton Karen Bass Ken Buck Lou Correa Matt Gaetz Nancy Pelosi Pramila Jayapal Ro Khanna Silicon Valley Tech giants Ted Lieu Thomas Massie Tom McClintock Zoe Lofgren

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