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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios 

A number of major media deals are facing uncertain futures since the Justice Department unexpectedly sued to block the $85 billion AT&T merger with Time Warner in November.

Why it matters: Before the DOJ lawsuit, the deals landscape within the Trump administration was vibrant. The unexpected litigation is slowing that momentum at a time when media companies are looking to consolidate to survive.

"I believe we're likely to see ongoing consolidation in the content industry but the level and intensity of dealmaking will very much depend upon the outcome of the AT&T-Time Warner trial," says Gene Kimmelman, President and CEO of Public Knowledge and former Chief Counsel for the DOJ's Antitrust Division.

  • Deal volumes during Trump’s first year as President were up 8% and 29% from the last two years of Obama’s presidency, respectively.
  • Sources say the feeling of renewed confidence from dealmakers has come to a screeching halt now that the DOJ is looking to block a merger that most thought would go through.
  • Judges typically don't like merger litigation because it forces them to predict the future and their job is to determine liability based on past facts.
"In a horizontal merger, (like the one between Disney and Fox), where two likeminded companies combine, they overcome this a bit because there's clear precedent set. But that's missing in vertical merger. No vertical merger law has passed since the 1970s."
— DC antitrust lawyer and former DOJ antitrust trial attorney David Balto

The political nature of The President's involvement with high-profile deals could also affect billions of dollars of deals to come. Sources say it's absolutely plausible to think that the Presidents' personal vendetta against CNN could impact the deal landscape, but that the current antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim

  • "My knowledge of Makan Delrahim is that he's going to call balls and strikes right down the middle," says Balto. "Antitrust enforcement works best when it does not have a political dimension to it."

What's next: Kimmelman says that if AT&T prevails in its lawsuit with the DOJ, "I worry the floodgates will be opened to massive transmission and content consolidation that could lock in control over media in a few hands for decades to come."

Go Deeper: Media megadeals to watch in 2018

Want to get smarter about deals and dealmakers shaping M&A and VC conversations? Sign up for Axios' Pro Rata newsletter authored by Dan Primack.

Go deeper

Federal court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for health workers in 10 states

President Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

A federal court in Missouri has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers at federally funded facilities in 10 states.

Why it matters: Monday's decision is the first victory for opponents of the rule, which requires health care workers to get vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022. The case is one of four lawsuits challenging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) rule and argues that the mandate will exacerbate staffing shortages.

Twitter's next act

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is exiting the company he helped build at a time when its future has never been so uncertain.

Why it matters: The person who controls Twitter controls the de facto public square — with implications for politics, media and free speech.

2 hours ago - Health

CDC strengthens COVID booster recommendation

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday strengthened its previous recommendation for booster shots, saying that everyone 18 and older "should" receive a booster dose.

Why it matters: Last month, CDC director Rochelle Walensky accepted a key advisory committee's recommendation that adults "may" get the shot. The slight, but strengthened, change in wording comes amid the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant.