Phillips alerted FTC staff to his pending departure Monday morning, according to a copy of the memo obtained by POLITICO. No departure date has been set, but Phillips said he plans to step down in the fall. While Phillips said his main reason for leaving was to put his family first, he said one factor was his sense that other commissioners weren’t open to discussion and compromise.
An FTC spokesman did not immediately respond for comment.
Since Khan took office in June 2021, Phillips and his colleague, Republican Commissioner Christine Wilson, have openly argued with her about policy and enforcement priorities and her management of the agency, which has suffered morale plummeting since Khan took office. They have argued that the agency needs less money, not more as she requested, that khan is throwing up unnecessary barricades for corporate mergers, and that she is refuse entry of dissenting voices.
Once his spot opens up, there could be an intense dispute over his replacement. The president generally defers to the opposite party in the Senate when he nominates minority commissioners in independent agencies. But as Congress heads into a heated midterm election and faces bipartisan pressure for antitrust reform, the nomination could be a divisive election.
It’s unclear who will have the upper hand in the selection, but Sen. ted cross (R-Tex.) will probably play an important role. Cruz, who is expected to be chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee (which has FTC oversight authority) or its ranking member, praised Lina Khan’s achievements at her nomination hearing, but was hypercritical of Álvaro. Bedoya, the most recently confirmed Democratic commissioner, whom he called a “radical.” Cruz, himself a former FTC staffer, has criticized tech giants for perceived biases against conservative discourse and could lobby for someone ideologically aligned with those goals.
Senator roger wicker (R-Miss.) The current ranking member of the Senate for Commerce is also expected to weigh in. Although Wicker initially supported Khan, he has since. concerns expressed over his management of the agency, so it’s likely that he too would favor a less aggressive commissioner.
And while Biden is likely to abide by Senate rules on nominations, he has made antitrust enforcement and competition policy a key part of his agenda, and the White House could seek someone aligned with Khan.
“Fundamentally, more than anything else, now is the right time for me and my family,” said Phillips, who has been with the agency for just over four years.
He added, however, that the current dynamics of the agency also influenced his decision to leave. In particular, he said one contributing factor was what he described as the majority’s unwillingness to build consensus.
“I’ve always tried to bring to light the tradeoffs the commission faces in doing the work that we do,” Phillips said, whether it relates to intellectual property or merger enforcement. “And the conversation lately hasn’t taken into account the serious discussion about the counterargument.”
In March, Phillips, along with Wilson, took the unusual step of arguing against the White House’s request for a 30 percent increase in the agency’s budget.
There is “no guarantee that the agency will abandon its current course of deviating from sound legal precedent and the commission’s established jurisdiction,” they said in a March statement. The pair also called the majority commissioners’ changes to merger review procedures, which they said would make it unnecessarily more burdensome for companies, as “crazy”.
“I have great respect for President Simons, [Acting] Chairman Slaughter and Chairman Khan,” Phillips said of the three agency directors he has worked with. “I have disagreed with each of them emphatically at times. But it is fair to say that lately there have been more disagreements.”