Trump’s Top Merger Watchdog Approved

By David McLaughlin, Bloomberg News
Photographer: Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Photographer: Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Makan Delrahim, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s antitrust division, was confirmed by the Senate as two blockbuster mergers await his review: AT&T Inc.’s takeover of Time Warner Inc. and Bayer AG’s deal for Monsanto Co.

Delrahim, 47, who was previously a deputy in Trump’s Office of White House Counsel, was approved by a vote of 73-21 on Wednesday, six months after Trump first named him for the post.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who delayed a vote on Delrahim’s nomination last month, opposed his confirmation, criticizing his lobbying on behalf of companies pursuing mergers, including health insurer Anthem Inc. in its failed bid for rival Cigna Corp. Delrahim will leave “big corporations alone to do pretty much whatever they want to do,” Warren said on the Senate floor.

“Now he wants to take a spin through the revolving door and regulate the industries he worked to make even less competitive,” the Massachusetts senator said.

Warren is among a group of Democratic lawmakers calling for more vigorous antitrust enforcement. They argue that regulators have let through too many mergers leading to consolidation in industries such as air travel, beer and drugstores, causing prices to rise for consumers.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that Delrahim is deeply committed to the free market system and that his expertise in antitrust enforcement will enable him to promote competition for the benefit of consumers.

Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, also spoke in favor of Delrahim, a former staffer of his. Given the growing debate over antitrust law today, Delrahim is “precisely who we need at the helm,” Hatch said.

Delrahim, who declined to comment on the vote, takes over a division that is nearing the end of its investigation into AT&T’s bid for Time Warner, an $85.4 billion deal that would reshape the media landscape by uniting the biggest pay-TV distributor with the owner of CNN and HBO.

Trump, a frequent critic of CNN, assailed the merger on the campaign trail, saying the tie-up would concentrate media power.

When Delrahim was asked about White House influence on antitrust investigations at his Senate confirmation hearing in May, he said politics would play no role in the reviews.

Delrahim, who was a deputy assistant attorney general during the George W. Bush administration, doesn’t see big problems with the Time Warner deal, judging by his public statements. He told senators that vertical mergers that unite suppliers and distributors don’t typically raise competition concerns. He told Canadian business news channel BNN last year that the Time Warner deal doesn’t raise the same hurdles as a merger of two direct competitors.

In addition to the Time Warner deal, the antitrust division is investigating the proposed $66 billion tie-up of Bayer and Monsanto to create a seed and crop-chemical giant. On the horizon is a possible merger of Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc., which would consolidate the four big wireless carriers in the U.S. to three.

As Delrahim moves into the antitrust post, the other U.S. agency that has antitrust jurisdiction, the Federal Trade Commission, is still without a permanent leader and has three vacant seats on the five-member commission.

Trump’s leading choice for the post is Washington lawyer Joseph Simons, a partner at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, Bloomberg reported in August. Simons would replace the acting chairman, Maureen Ohlhausen.

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