Trump Is Seen Bypassing Acting FTC Chief in Favor of Outsider

Joseph Simons of Paul Weiss worked at FTC under George W. Bush

Cornyn aide, Delta lawyer also under consideration for agency

By David McLaughlin, Billy House and Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg News

President Donald Trump is poised to nominate a longtime antitrust attorney as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, bypassing its acting Republican leader in favor of an outside candidate.

Trump’s leading choice for the post is Washington lawyer Joseph Simons, a partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, according to three people familiar with the matter. As FTC chairman, Simons would play a crucial role in the agency’s review of Inc.’s proposed takeover of Whole Foods Market Inc. and its lawsuit against Qualcomm Inc.for allegedly abusing its monopoly in the market for smartphone chips.

Simons, who worked at the agency during the George W. Bush administration, is among a handful of candidates under consideration to fill three empty seats on the five-member commission. Although Simons is the front-runner for the top FTC job, Trump hasn’t made a final decision, one of the people said. Trump is expected to make the nomination in early September, the person said, just after the agency’s initial review of Amazon-Whole Foods is set to expire. That review period could be extended.

Neither Simons nor White House officials responded immediately to requests for comment.

Open Seats

Noah Phillips, chief counsel for Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, is in the running for a Republican seat, as is Christine Wilson, an in-house lawyer at Delta Air Lines Inc., said two of the people, who asked not to be named because the deliberations are confidential.

Rohit Chopra is under consideration for the open Democratic seat, they said. Phillips, Wilson and Chopra didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In favoring Simons for the chairman post, Trump would be passing over the acting chairman, Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican commissioner since 2012 who was seen as campaigning for the job since Trump’s inauguration by touting her conservative credentials.

After becoming acting chairman, Ohlhausen criticized the Democratic-led agency under the Obama administration, saying it imposed “unnecessary costs” on businesses. She also vowed to lead the FTC with “regulatory humility” and promoted a campaign she called “Economic Liberty” to examine occupational licensing requirements that she said raised barriers for entering certain professions.

Ohlhausen opposed the Qualcomm antitrust lawsuit, filed in the final days of the Obama administration. In addition to antitrust enforcement, the FTC is responsible for protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive practices by businesses. Ohlhausen didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump Lags

Trump is behind past administrations in choosing a chairman for the FTC. President Barack Obama named Commissioner Jon Leibowitz as chairman in February 2009. Bush selected Timothy Muris in March 2001.

Simons was chief of the FTC’s competition bureau, which investigates mergers and anticompetitive conduct, from 2001 to 2003. During that time, the commission blocked Libbey Inc.’s plan to buy glassware rival Anchor Hocking from Newell Rubbermaid and the combination of pickle makers Vlasic Foods International and Claussen Pickle. Simons’s bureau also pursued investigations of drugmakers accused of improperly listing patents with the Food and Drug Administration to shut out generic competitors.

Before joining Cornyn’s office in November 2011, Phillips was a lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson LLP and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Wilson was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP before joining Delta. She was also chief of staff to Muris when he was chairman of the FTC.

Chopra is a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America, where he works on consumer-finance issues. He was previously an assistant director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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