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Tim Wu and Lina Khan. Photos: Getty Images

An influx of tech antitrust hardliners in the Biden administration signals a new toughness on tech from the Democrats.

Why it matters: Tech companies that grew unfettered by regulation during the Obama administration will now be under scrutiny from advocates that have made a name for themselves by targeting the behemoths' size and power.

Lina Khan, well-known in antitrust circles for her ideas about stopping platforms like Amazon from competing directly with sellers, is being vetted as a nominee for a slot as Democratic FTC commissioner, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The news was first reported by Politico.

  • Khan is a former public interest advocate who did a stint at the FTC working for former Democratic commissioner Rohit Chopra, and served as an adviser on the House Judiciary Committee during its year-long investigation of Big Tech firms.
  • Khan represents a newer school of antitrust thought, where companies' size, market dominance and treatment of competitors is considered anticompetitive behavior that regulators need to reel in — rather than judging monopoly power primarily by harm to consumers.

Tim Wu, known for coining the term "net neutrality," was named a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy.

  • His role at the White House will encompass competition policy in other industries as well, according to a New York Times report.
  • Wu is a Columbia University Professor and author of "The Curse of Bigness" about the dangers of Big Tech's growing power.
  • He previously worked for the New York Attorney General, and also held advisor roles at the FTC and for the White House's National Economic Council during the Obama administration.

Of note: The Senate Judiciary Committee holds its confirmation hearing for civil rights lawyer Vanita Gupta, nominated for Associate Attorney General, on Tuesday.

  • If confirmed, Gupta, who's been critical of Facebook, would oversee the antitrust and civil rights divisions at the Justice Department. However, Biden has not yet nominated a leader for the antitrust division.

What they're saying: "The president has been clear — on the campaign, and, probably, more recently — that he stands up to the abuse of power, and that includes the abuse of power from big technology companies and their executives," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week.

Reality check: The roles Khan and Wu will hold within in the administration are not final decision makers, so while they will be influential in shaping the debate, they won't have the last word on outcomes.

What to watch: Biden's pick to lead the Justice Department's antitrust division and the permanent chair of the FTC, which launched cases against Google and Facebook last year, will give more clarity on the administration's stance on antitrust enforcement.

Go deeper

At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derails in Montana

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

An Amtrak train derailed near Joplin, Montana, killing at least three people and wounding many others on Saturday afternoon, per a Liberty County Sheriff's Office statement to media outlets.

The big picture: Some 147 passengers and 13 crew were aboard the Empire Builder train, which runs from Seattle to Chicago, when five cars derailed about 4p.m., Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in an emailed statement. The National Transportation Safety Board said it's investigating the derailment.

New York prepares for staff shortages from health vaccine mandate

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul during a news conference Tuesday in New York City.. Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced Saturday she would declare a state of emergency if there were health worker shortages due to New York's upcoming COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Why it matters: Hochul moved to reassure concerns of staffing shortages in the health care sector in a statement that also outlined plans to call in medically trained National Guard members, workers from outside New York and retirees if necessary when the mandate takes effect Monday.

California to remove word "alien" from state laws

Gov. Gavin Newsom during a September news conference in Oakland, California. Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

California is removing the word "alien" from its state laws and replacing it with words such as "noncitizen" and "immigrant," Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced.

Why it matters: The word "alien" began to be used in the 1990s "as a political dog whistle to express bigotry and hatred without using traditionally racist language," per a statement from Newsom's office.