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Ken Buck's post-Congress tech reflections

Apr 11, 2024
Former Rep. Ken Buck smiling in the Capitol

Buck in February. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Former Colorado Rep. Ken Buck was a rare individual in the House: a Republican who worked with Democrats on Big Tech and antitrust policy.

The big picture: His resignation last month left the GOP with a slim majority in the House, and he hasn't been shy about why he left, calling Congress "dysfunctional."

Before his departure from Congress, he was an active voice on antitrust, Section 230 and other tech issues.

  • Most notably, he worked with former Rep. David Cicilline on a blockbuster tech antitrust report in 2021 that led to a package of bills that ultimately stalled in the Senate.

Ashley caught up with Buck by phone from his home state. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity:

You and Cicilline worked closely together to move forward Big Tech antitrust bills. You've talked about how dysfunctional Congress is — could bipartisan coordination like that happen today?

I think it could happen today. With the leadership of the Judiciary Committee now, there's not an emphasis placed on the threat Big Tech has to this country.

  • [Rep. Thomas Massie, now the lead Republican on antitrust for House Judiciary] is not a proponent of the government being involved in competition policy.

Do you still think the Big Tech antitrust bills didn't pass because former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer just weren't interested? Or do you blame tech lobbying?

If [Schumer and Pelosi] had been on board, the hearings and the floor vote would have happened. It's not just those two, though; clearly [then-House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were not proponents of these bills either.

  • Tech lobbyists had huge resources and exerted huge influence, but that can be overcome. There isn't a will now to overcome that.
  • Their lobbying efforts, as huge as they were, are not the final determinative factor.
  • The most surprising thing to me was that the tech lobbyists had a huge amount of confidence they could prevent these bills from coming to the floor.

House Judiciary Republicans have railed against FTC Chair Lina Khan, saying she has overstepped her agency's boundaries and been politically motivated. Do you agree with that criticism? Any hopes for the FTC now that two Republicans are back on board?

I don't [agree]. I hope decisions coming out of the FTC are 5–0 rather than 3–2. I think there are a lot of compelling issues involving competition policy she can bring together all five commissioners on.

  • [House Judiciary has] a purely political approach intended to yield a result in elections and not a beneficial result in the marketplace.

The TikTok divest-or-ban bill passed the House, but not much yet is happening in the Senate. Knowing how these dynamics can go, what should happen next?

Debate is really important on this issue. It shouldn't be partisan, and it shouldn't be something the chambers divide on.

  • TikTok is a national security threat, and it shouldn't be thrown into an omnibus bill; it should be a standalone debate and vote.

What does Congress need to do on AI?

Legislation is very important. The mistakes Congress made with the internet should not be replicated with AI. There is regulation that's necessary.

Courts are essentially deciding the future of tech antitrust in the U.S. as the Apple, Google, Amazon and Meta cases at the FTC and DOJ play out. What do you think of that?

It's ironic that Republicans talk all the time about the need for Congress to legislate and for courts to get out of the legislating business, and then Congress refused to legislate on this issue, leaving it up to the courts to try to apply laws that are more than a century old to technology that is evolving every day.

What are you doing next?

I'm still talking to folks and finding a path. I am enjoying being on TV and radio and talking about the issues. I don't think there's any earth-shaking announcement that is going to be made; I'm not running for president.

  • [Tech antitrust] is a passion of mine, and I will continue to work to promote competition in the tech area.
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