Valentine’s Day breakup
The F.T.C.’s biggest internal critic won’t be hanging around to push back against the agency and its chair, Lina Khan, who’s come under repeated fire from the political right and big business for being too tough on mergers.
In a blunt breakup letter published on Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, Commissioner Christine Wilson, a Republican antitrust lawyer appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2018, announced that she would “soon resign” so as not to legitimize “lawlessness” under Khan. She signed off with sharp words: “Consider this my noisy exit.”
But Ms. Wilson gave no specific date, and inside the commission no one knows when she will actually go.
Ms. Wilson is the second Republican to quit recently. Noah Phillips stepped down in October before his term expired. Although his departure was far more diplomatic, Mr. Phillips often joined Ms. Wilson in challenging Ms. Khan and her Democratic colleagues, saying their ambitions exceeded the agency’s legal authority. Mr. Phillips also complained of diminished discussion and compromise.
Ms. Khan is now surrounded by allies. Ms. Wilson’s move will leave two open Republican seats and a unified trio of Democrats. Her departure isn’t likely to change the outcome of agency decisions, but the absence of dissenters does transform the dynamic. In a sign of solidarity, Commissioners Rebecca Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya joined Khan in a statement on Ms. Wilson’s resignation. “While we often disagreed with Commissioner Wilson, we respect her devotion to her beliefs and are grateful for her public service,” they wrote.
The F.T.C. just took a big hit. A federal court judge recently threw out the agency’s request to temporarily block Facebook owner Meta’s acquisition of Within, a virtual reality fitness app. The case was seen as a big test of Khan’s expansive approach to antitrust. Ms. Wilson said in her letter that she believed the chair should have recused herself from that matter because, as a congressional staffer, she had published a report saying “that Meta should be blocked from making any future acquisitions.” Such views should have been a disqualifier, Ms. Wilson argued; it was another factor in her decision to resign.
What’s next for Ms. Khan? Tomorrow she is scheduled to speak at a public forum on the F.T.C.’s proposed ban on noncompete agreements. Ms. Wilson on Tuesday called the rule-making another sign of Ms. Khan’s overreach. Ms. Khan is also overseeing the agency’s lawsuit against Microsoft’s nearly $70 billion acquisition of Activision.
By rule, President Biden must nominate a Republican commissioner to fill the empty seats, but it’s likely he’ll seek out more of a centrist. The White House this week renominated Slaughter, a Trump-appointed Democrat who joined in 2018, for another term.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Warren Buffett flips his chips stake. Berkshire Hathaway disclosed that it had unloaded most of its holdings in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, a move that pushed the chip maker’s stock into the red on Wednesday. Berkshire bought a nearly $5 billion stake in November, and apparently sold at a big profit, Bloomberg calculates.
Nikki Haley enters the race for president. The former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador is the first Republican challenger to former President Donald Trump. Her entry into the race underscores how the former president has failed to scare off rivals after the Republicans’ disappointing midterm elections.
The U.F.O.s downed by the U.S. military last weekend may have posed no threat. Officials have found nothing to suggest that the objects were part of an intelligence collection effort, and they may turn out to have been commercial or research efforts, the National Security Council said. Meanwhile, China sought to cast the U.S.’s shooting down of its spy balloon as “hysterical” and evidence of America’s decline.
Pharrell Williams is Louis Vuitton’s next men’s wear designer. Tapping the American rapper and producer, rather than a designer by profession, for one of the most high-profile creative director jobs in fashion is a sign that the worlds of fashion and entertainment are further converging.
Ford halts production of its F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. The company is looking into a potential problem with the truck’s battery. Though Ford said it knew of no incidents with the battery, the production pause comes as it hoped to ramp up production and establish a lead in electric pickup trucks.
Musk lays out a succession plan
For months, Elon Musk has been dropping hints and even promises that he will eventually step down from running Twitter. On Wednesday, he gave a glimpse of what succession at his highly indebted social network might look like.
“I think I need to stabilize the organization and just make sure it’s in a financially healthy place and the product road map is clearly laid out,” Mr. Musk told the World Government Summit in Dubai via video link. “I’m guessing probably toward the end of this year would be good timing to find someone else to run the company.”
Shares in Tesla initially jumped on the news, before easing. The stock, which is up nearly 60 percent this year, was trading up 1 percent at 6 a.m. Eastern. Tesla shareholders have been grumbling that Mr. Musk was too distracted by running Twitter to focus his attention on Tesla and the many challenges it faces. Since completing his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter in October, he’s fired thousands, sought to court skittish advertisers to return to the platform and come under legal pressure from vendors for nonpayment.
“Twitter is certainly quite the roller coaster,” he admitted on Wednesday — not for the first time.
In other news about Mr. Musk:
According to Platformer, Mr. Musk urged Twitter engineers to work late on Sunday to do something to help boost the visibility of one of his tweets about the Super Bowl, which got less engagement than a similar message by President Biden. The fix: They tweaked the algorithm to prioritize his post, resulting in more views.
Mr. Musk donated roughly $1.9 billion worth of Tesla stock to charity last year, a regulatory filing showed.
Tesla has agreed to open up more of its charging network to non-Tesla E.V.s by the end of 2024 in a deal announced on Wednesday by the White House.
“Basically, trust and safety was the first thing to go … The veneer of civility is expensive.”
— Joel Finkelstein, co-founder of the Network Contagion Research Institute, a group that tracks hate online, lamenting that social media giants were wavering in their commitment to fight false information as their overall business suffers and they lay off workers.
Biden reshapes his economic team
President Biden will soon have a new top economic adviser. The Times reports that Lael Brainard, the vice chair of the Federal Reserve, has been selected as the next director of the National Economic Council, while Jared Bernstein is expected to become chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
Their new gigs could have some ripple effects in Washington:
Ms. Brainard’s appointment would remove a dovish force from the Fed. She is currently seen as a potential brake on the Fed’s efforts to cool inflation by raising interest rates. Her big focus has been on maintaining the conditions needed to support a strong labor market.
“One potential voice for restraint is going to be absent,” Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University and a former economic adviser during the Obama administration, told The Times about Brainard’s appointment.
Her replacement in the Fed’s No. 2 position will require Senate approval, which could become a bitter fight. Names in the current speculation game include the current Fed governors Lisa Cook and Philip Jefferson; Mary C. Daly, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; Janice Eberly of Northwestern University; and Karen Dynan of Harvard University.
Mr. Bernstein and Ms. Brainard will be called upon to push Mr. Biden’s efforts to improve the economy, potentially a big focus of his re-election campaign. Ms. Brainard would immediately become a new public face for those efforts. If the Senate confirms the appointment of Mr. Bernstein, who worked at the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute for 16 years, he would likely become the most outspoken supporter of labor unions to ever take the role.
Ms. Brainard worked with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen when she was Fed chair. Ms. Yellen has indicated that she plans to remain in her role at the Treasury for the remainder of Mr. Biden’s four-year term.
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