Mar 11, 2021 - Technology

Amy Klobuchar steps into the antitrust spotlight

Photo illustration of Amy Klobuchar walking into a spotlight.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is seizing the reins of a powerful Senate panel and gearing up to be a formidable figure in pressing Congress' case against Big Tech.

Driving the news: Klobuchar makes her debut Thursday as the chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, which oversees the agencies charged with policing monopoly power.

The big picture: Thursday's hearing will lay out Klobuchar's ideas for changing antitrust law for the digital age, a sign that she is using her new national stature to put pressure on the tech industry.

  • "We have gotten more interest in antitrust and we are making antitrust cool again," Klobuchar told Axios.
  • She said she sees antitrust moves against tech as part of a larger effort to "rejuvenate capitalism."
  • "We're starting big in terms of talking about the economy as a whole," she said. "Tech is the most obvious, with the gateway issues and all the consolidation. But you've also had consolidation in everything from cat food to caskets and online travel and cable, you name it."

Between the lines: Klobuchar has long been vocal on this issue, but now she can drive the Senate's agenda. In February, she introduced sweeping new antitrust legislation. This week, she re-introduced a bill along with House colleagues on antitrust changes for news media and Big Tech.

  • She is more centrist than some of her Democratic colleagues who work on this issue — more a consensus builder than a firebrand calling for corporate breakups.

Klobuchar has influential friends, thanks to her presidential candidacy. She's close with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a former Judiciary committee member.

  • She's rallied Republican and Democratic members around the idea that the DOJ and FTC should have more resources and funding to pursue big cases.
  • She is also working on a book about antitrust and the digital age, slated for release next month.

What they're saying: Klobuchar said Thursday's hearing is the first in a series focused on antitrust issues, and she's working on getting Republican support for her legislation.

  • Klobuchar says she and ranking Republican for antitrust Mike Lee (R-Utah), agree that there's too much consolidation across various industries and that he's currently reviewing her bill: "Maybe he will join me in parts of it."

Yes, but: Klobuchar and Lee do not always see eye to eye on the appropriate way to handle antitrust issues, despite their friendly relationship.

  • Lee, who has accused Big Tech of censorship, has advocated moving antitrust enforcement to one agency rather than splitting it between the FTC and DOJ, and opposes widening the "consumer welfare" standard, under which monopolies are only judged illegal if they harm consumers.
  • It's a trickier dynamic than in the House, where antitrust lead Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) has benefitted from increasing amounts of support from ranking member Ken Buck (R-Co).

What to watch: Thursday's hearing witnesses include academics and advocates on both sides of the antitrust reform debate, and lawmakers will say whether they support Klobuchar's initial ideas for antitrust legislation this Congress.

  • Watch for how many Republicans find areas where they can agree with Klobuchar and other Democrats, and where Lee and Klobuchar appear to find common ground.
Go deeper