House Antitrust Chair Says Big Tech Abuses Gatekeeper Power

(Bloomberg) — Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc. abuse their power as gatekeepers of the internet, said the head of a House antitrust panel who’s poised to propose legislative changes to rein in the technology giants.

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“Each platform uses their gatekeeper position to protect their own power,” said Representative David Cicilline, who chairs a House antitrust panel that’s spent more than a year probing the dominance of the internet platforms. “By controlling the infrastructure of the digital age, they have surveilled other businesses to identify potential rivals — and ultimately bought out, copied, or cut off their competitive threats.”

Cicilline, who spoke Thursday during a hearing with experts on competition law, is preparing a final report recommending changes to the legislative and regulatory framework. That report is expected to be released as early as next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Sundar Pichai, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg testified voluntarily in July before the subcommittee. Cicilline criticized their testimony as being evasive and non-responsive and said “they raised new questions about whether they believe their companies are beyond oversight.”

Representatives from Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Cicilline’s remarks.

Among the recommendations that Cicilline has floated is a prohibition against running a platform and competing on it at the same time. That would potentially bar Google from bidding in the online ad exchanges it operates or stop Amazon from providing a marketplace for independent merchants while selling its own products.

Cicilline has said he wants bipartisan support for his ideas, but hasn’t revealed whether he has Republican support for his proposals.

The GOP typically views changes to antitrust law skeptically. Although some of the committee’s Republicans have been critical of some of the technology companies’ practices, not all agree that new legislation is necessary.

“We ultimately disagree on the future of antitrust laws,” said Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who is the top Republican on the subcommittee. He suggested he wants to see improved enforcement of existing laws, but is opposed to changes that would prompt break-ups of the companies.

For decades, the internet giants have enjoyed laissez-faire regulation in the U.S., including scant antitrust enforcement of mergers. Still, they are coming under increasing attack in Washington over a range of issues including misinformation, hate speech, election meddling, and what Republicans decry as anti-conservative bias.

In addition to Cicilline’s investigation, federal and state antitrust enforcers are poised to file a historic monopolization lawsuit against Google, and additional cases could be in the pipeline, Bloomberg has reported. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is also preparing a possible case against Facebook. Amazon and Apple are also facing inquiries by federal antitrust authorities.

Witnesses at the hearing included Bill Baer, a former Justice Department antitrust chief under President Obama; Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University known for progressive views on antitrust; and Rachel Bovard of the conservative-allied Internet Accountability Project.

Baer called for Congress to pass

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House Democrats unveil reform package to ‘prevent future presidential abuses’

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping reform package to impose new checks on presidential power and potential wrongdoing in the executive branch, while toughening enforcement of ethics rules and congressional subpoenas — proposals they believe are necessary to “prevent future presidential abuses” and “restore checks and balances” to government after nearly four years of battles with President Trump and the White House.



Nancy Pelosi wearing a blue shirt: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 23, 2020.


© Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 23, 2020.

Drafted by party leaders at the direction of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the 158-page proposal would add new reporting requirements to the president’s use of the pardon power, and amend federal bribery law to include offering or granting of a pardon or commutation.

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(MORE: President Trump commutes sentence of longtime friend, adviser Roger Stone) (MORE: Trump’s impeachment trial: How we got here, what happens next and what to watch)

Democrats liken the package to the series of post-Watergate reforms passed in the wake of President Richard Nixon’s resignation – which included changes to campaign finance regulations, added oversight to the intelligence community and transparency to government with the Freedom of Information Act.

“The rule of law applies to every person in this country, including the president and members of the administration,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said Tuesday at a news conference with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and other senior Democrats to roll out the package.

“We owe it to the American people to put meaningful constraints on power, fix what is broken, and ensure that there is never again another Richard Nixon or Donald Trump from either party,” Schiff said. “Even in a dangerous world, the threat to our democracy from outside the country is less than the threat from within.”

The package would suspend the statute of limitations for any federal crime committed by a sitting president or vice president – before or during terms in office – while making it more difficult for a president to profit off of the presidency, codifying the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution and beefing up enforcement of any violations.

It would add new insulation between the Justice Department and White House to prevent political interference in law enforcement matters. It would require the attorney general to maintain a log of contacts between the White House and DOJ, and mandate reporting to the DOJ inspector general.



Donald Trump standing in front of a crowd: President Donald Trump charges up the crowd while speaking of the need to win the upcoming election during a campaign rally at the Toledo Express Airport on Sept. 21, 2020 in Swanton, Ohio.


© Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images
President Donald Trump charges up the crowd while speaking of the need to win the upcoming election during a campaign rally at the Toledo Express Airport on Sept. 21, 2020 in Swanton, Ohio.

After struggling for years with the Trump administration’s resistance to congressional oversight, House Democrats would add teeth to their subpoenas — setting up an expedited process for the House and Senate to enforce subpoenas in civil court and greater penalties for noncompliance. Their proposal would also toughen

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Pelosi, Democrats unveil bills to rein in alleged White House abuses of power

Leading House Democrats on Wednesday unveiled sweeping legislation empowering Congress with more muscular oversight and anti-corruption tools to rein in alleged presidential abuses — present and future.

Behind Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare House lawmakers reach deal to avert shutdown Centrist Democrats ‘strongly considering’ discharge petition on GOP PPP bill MORE (D-Calif.), the Democrats are hoping to bolster the congressional checks on the executive branch, as outlined by the Constitution, including efforts to curb abuses of presidential pardons; prevent presidents from profiting personally from the office; and secure administrative compliance with congressional subpoenas.

The legislation has no chance of becoming law while Republicans control the Senate and President TrumpDonald John TrumpOmar fires back at Trump over rally remarks: ‘This is my country’ Pelosi: Trump hurrying to fill SCOTUS seat so he can repeal ObamaCare Trump mocks Biden appearance, mask use ahead of first debate MORE remains in the White House. But it highlights the laundry list of abuse allegations Democrats have lodged against the president over the last four years — and provides Democrats with political ammunition as Congress prepares to leave Washington for the final sprint to the Nov. 3 elections.

“During this once-in-a-generation moment, the Congress has a sacred obligation for the people to defend the rule of law and restore accountability and basic ethics to the government. And that is exactly what we’re doing [with this package],” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

“It is sad that the president’s actions have made this legislation necessary,” she added. “As with other things, he gives us no choice.”

Crafted by some of the Democrats’ top committee heads, the legislative package takes aim at the some of the most controversial episodes of Trump’s tenure.

One proposal would codify the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars presidents and other federal officials from accepting foreign gifts. Another would expedite the judicial process surrounding congressional subpoenas, which the administration has frequently disregarded leading to lengthy court proceedings.

“Congressional subpoenas are not requests that recipients can easily brush aside,” said Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealRep. Bill Pascrell named chair of House oversight panel Rep. Cedric Richmond set to join House Ways and Means Committee Coons beats back progressive Senate primary challenger in Delaware MORE (D-Mass.), head of the Ways and Means Committee. “They are indispensable as a tool that this body uses to investigate potential wrong-doing … and to prevent future abuses.”

The legislation would also lend new teeth to the Hatch Act — which bars federal officials from promoting political interests during their normal course of duties — by establishing fines of up to $50,000 for violations.

Another provision would strengthen Congress’s powers to dictate federal funding by applying penalties to executive officials who misappropriate taxpayer dollars for pet projects. Democrats have long-accused Trump of abusing that power, including an incident when he tapped Pentagon funding to help build his wall at the Mexican border, and another when he withheld federal

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House Dems seek to curb presidential power with new bill targeting potential abuses

House Democrats unveiled a sweeping package of government reforms Monday aimed at curbing future abuses of power by a president and strengthening congressional oversight powers, in response to the conflicts they’ve had with the Trump administration in the last three years. 

The legislation, called the “Protecting Our Democracy Act,” wouldn’t pass the Republican-controlled Senate even if it were to pass the House before the end of the current Congress, but it is among the bills Democrats have prepared, should they recapture the Senate and White House this November. It would complement H.R.1, another reform package targeting voting rights, campaign finance and government ethics House Democrats passed in 2019. 

The committee chairs who authored the legislation say it will prevent future abuses and restore the balance of power between Congress and the White House, and they argue that the foundation of democracy is “deeply at risk” without changes.  

“Since taking office, President Trump has placed his own personal and political interests above the national interest by protecting and enriching himself, targeting his political opponents, seeking foreign interference in our elections, eroding transparency, seeking to end accountability, and otherwise abusing the power of his office,” the chairs said in a statement. “It is time for Congress to strengthen the bedrock of our democracy and ensure our laws are strong enough to withstand a lawless president.” 

The latest legislation tries to claw back more power for Congress and to curb the president’s power under the Constitution, an area where Democrats have struggled, despite hundreds of hours spent on investigations of the current administration and impeachment proceedings that ended with the president’s acquittal in the Senate. 

It would speed up the process by which Congress can turn to the courts to enforce a subpoena and empower the courts to fine government officials who fail to comply. Democrats have used the contempt process to try to compel Attorney General William Barr, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and former White House Counsel Don McGahn to comply with subpoenas, only to see those efforts stall in court or fail to produce documents they sought. 

There are also provisions aimed at limiting the administration’s ability to govern through emergency declarations or to divert federal funds away from the use intended by Congress. 

The bill would also try to curb potential political interference by the Justice Department, and even allow fines against White House officials who violate the Hatch Act by engaging in partisan political activity while acting in an official capacity. An ethics watchdog for the White House recommended that one of President Trump’s key advisers, Kellyanne Conway, be fired for violating the act, but she faced no consequences from the White House. 

Other measures would strengthen protections for whistleblowers in the federal government and try to give further support to the inspectors general who independently investigate federal agencies.  

The president himself would face increased scrutiny and limits on his ability to issue pardons or commutations to relatives or officials who were found to have obstructed Congress. Self-pardons would

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House Democrats unveil reforms to ‘prevent future presidential abuses’

Taken together, the proposals represent the Democrats’ long-awaited attempt to correct what they have identified as systematic deficiencies during the course of President Trump’s tenure and impeachment, in the style of changes Congress adopted after Richard Nixon left office.

Unlike the post-Watergate reforms, however, which took years to enact, today’s House Democrats have collected their proposed changes under one bill reflecting several measures that have been percolating piecemeal through the House.

“It is time for Congress to strengthen the bedrock of our democracy and ensure our laws are strong enough to withstand a lawless president,” the chairs of the seven House committees who curated the legislation said in a joint statement. “These reforms are necessary not only because of the abuses of this president, but because the foundation of our democracy is the rule of law and that foundation is deeply at risk.”

It’s unclear precisely when lawmakers would take up the legislation, though it will almost certainly be after November’s election or sometime in the new year.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act, as it is titled, is being rolled out almost a year to the day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the House would pursue impeachment charges against the president. It faces long odds in the current Congress, where the Republican-led Senate is all but guaranteed to eschew the legislation.

Yet its release less than six weeks before Election Day signals the changes congressional Democrats envision pursuing under a possible Joe Biden presidency, or if the party seizes a majority of Senate seats in November.

The measure includes several provisions to speed up judicial rulings on congressional subpoenas and emoluments cases, in which the House or Senate alleges that a federal official violated constitutional prohibitions on accepting gifts without congressional permission. The bill states that both types of cases should be decided by a panel of three judges, and that any appeals would go directly to the Supreme Court.

The slow process of judicial review has been a frequent stumbling block for House Democrats attempting to subpoena Trump administration officials, leading the party to decide to avoid court battles entirely during Trump’s impeachment process, for fear of getting bogged down. A suit the House filed last summer to enforce a subpoena against Trump’s former White House counsel Donald McGahn is still working through the appeals process; last month, a federal appeals court panel in Washington, D.C. ruled 2-to-1 against the House, arguing that Congress hadn’t passed a law authorizing itself to sue to enforce subpoenas. The bill unveiled Wednesday expressly gives Congress that authority.

The package mirrors several measures to better regulate the relationship between the White House and Justice Department, which Democrats believe has been too cozy under the leadership of Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr. It reflects a proposal from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) requiring the attorney general to keep a log of certain communications with the White House and periodically share it with the DOJ inspector general and Congress, and a bill from

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