An Architect of Biden’s Antitrust Push Is Leaving the White House
Tim Wu, a central architect of President Biden’s push to clip the wings of the nation’s largest companies, is leaving the White House.
Mr. Wu’s last day at the National Economic Council will be Wednesday, ending his 22-month tenure as special assistant to the president for competition and tech policy, the White House said. Mr. Wu told The New York Times that he would return to his previous job, as a professor at Columbia Law School.
Mr. Wu is one-third of a troika — along with Lina Khan at the Federal Trade Commission and Jonathan Kanter at the Justice Department — leading Washington’s attempts to more aggressively check corporate giants, including the largest tech companies. He was an author of a July 2021 executive order demanding that federal agencies take steps to increase competition across the economy. Ms. Khan and Mr. Kanter have tried to block corporate consolidation using uncommon arguments in court.
Mr. Wu, 50, said personal reasons were driving his departure. He has been commuting to Washington from New York, he said, requiring him to spend stretches away from his young children.
“There’s a time where the burden on family is too much,” Mr. Wu said. “I’ve been feeling the balance has shifted.”
Mr. Wu said he had entered the job believing it to be a “once-in-a-generation chance” to reverse decades of more conservative thinking in antitrust law. The administration has notched some wins on that front — such as enacting parts of the 2021 executive order, which led to efforts by the government to open up charging networks for electric vehicles and make hearing aids available for purchase over the counter.
“I think I’m maybe most proud of the fact that we have re-established a presidential role in competition policy and economic structure,” he said.
But antitrust legislation to ban common practices used by tech giants, a goal of many progressives, failed to become law.
Mr. Wu said it was “disappointing” that tech-related legislation had not passed during his tenure and defended the White House’s efforts to push for the antitrust measure. “We supported it along the way,” he said, adding, “We repeatedly and unconditionally voiced support for a bipartisan bill of that nature.”
Mr. Wu said he was happy with the aggressive action pushed by the F.T.C. and the Justice Department, the two primary federal antitrust regulators, over the past two years. The agencies, which are led by political appointees, work independently of the White House.
Although the Justice Department successfully blocked Penguin Random House from buying Simon & Schuster, courts ruled against several other of its merger challenges. The F.T.C. has also sued to block Meta, Facebook’s parent company, and Microsoft from buying companies in recent months; those efforts face stiff legal challenges.
Hannah Garden-Monheit, who was involved in the antitrust executive order, will take over his antitrust policy work. Elizabeth Kelly, who works on digital asset policy for the National Economic Council, will inherit his portfolio of technology policy issues, the White House said. Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, will continue to oversee both areas.
Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, said in a statement that in the past two years the government had reignited “a great American tradition of presidential leadership on competition policy, harkening to the era of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt.” He added that the administration would “continue to institutionalize bipartisan, pro-competition reforms across agencies.”
Asked what to expect from the coming years, Mr. Ramamurti pointed to demands laid out in the 2021 executive order.
“We’ve got all of these different levers that we can pull — personnel, the judiciary, you know, the agencies — and we’re working on all of that,” he said.