A conservative feud over the best approach to crack down on large technology companies allegedly censoring conservatives spilled into public view on Wednesday.
On one side is Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, who is leading a new push to mobilize conservatives against a slew of new antitrust bills aiming to crack down on large technology platforms. Mr. Jordan’s view that the bills do not benefit conservatives and represent a ‘big government’ power-grab has the support of traditional conservatives who are focused on the free market, such as at the Heritage Foundation.
On the other side is Rep. Ken Buck, Colorado Republican, who has championed the antitrust proposals alongside House Democrats. Mr. Buck touted right-wing support for some of the provisions from Fox News personality Tucker Carlson and Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, among others, during a House Judiciary Committee meeting on Wednesday.
The outcome of the struggle will determine how Republicans counter major tech companies and also reveal whether there is an appetite for doing so ahead of next year’s elections.
Earlier this month, the House antitrust panel’s top Democrat, Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, and top Republican, Mr. Buck, unveiled a handful of new antitrust proposals. The bills would empower the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to sue big tech platforms, better police start-up acquisitions, and route more funding toward those agencies, among other things.
Mr. Jordan, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, argued on Wednesday that the proposals would embolden big government to leverage Big Tech against conservatives.
“Big Tech censors conservatives, these bills don’t fix that problem, they make it worse,” said Mr. Jordan at a Judiciary Committee meeting. “They don’t break up Big Tech, they don’t stop censorship.”
Mr. Jordan said the bills also give too much power to the FTC and the Democratic-controlled federal government.
Mr. Buck countered that the legislation represented a “scalpel, not a chainsaw” for the most important aspects of antitrust law.
“We are giving the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission the tools they need to restore the free market, incentivize innovation, and give small businesses a fair shot against oligarchs like [Amazon’s] Jeff Bezos and [Facebook CEO] Mark Zuckerberg,” Mr. Buck responded. “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are already spending millions of dollars on lobbyists in the D.C. swamp to fight us. They have spread lies about these bills, calling them communist in one breath and arguing they won’t actually break up big tech in the other. These bills are conservative.”
The conservative think tank Heritage Foundation lent ammunition to Mr. Jordan’s position in a new report released on Wednesday that castigated the antitrust proposals as “far-left” and the “antithesis of conservative principles.”
“The left appears to think that conservatives will fall for their Trojan Horse, which is a trap to take advantage of justified conservative anger toward Big Tech by obfuscating what they are doing: weaponizing antitrust and turning antitrust into a tool that can be used to reshape industries and the economy,” said the report. “They are already seeking to radically change the nature of businesses and capitalism; weaponized antitrust would be their most powerful tool yet in their campaign to change the American economy and restrict economic freedom. These proposed bills are an attempt to codify some of these radical proposals.”
Not to be outdone, Mr. Buck’s office released a list of “industry leaders and consumer advocates” supporting his view, including music-streaming service Spotify and the conservative advocacy group Internet Accountability Project.
“Rep. Buck is a principled conservative warrior and has served as the tip of the spear in fighting back against Big Tech’s war on conservatives, small businesses, and the competitive market,” the Internet Accountability Project said in a statement posted on Mr. Buck’s website.
While the intramural conservative dispute may seem inconsequential in the Democrat-controlled Congress, Republicans have previously influenced how Democrats prioritize their legislative agenda.
Mr. Jordan hinted at his success in helping to undermine antitrust legislation that does not match his vision of conservative policy. He referenced another antitrust proposal that has stalled, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which was introduced by Mr. Buck and Mr. Cicilline as well as bipartisan lawmakers in the Senate.
“A few months ago, Democrats brought in front of the committee, a newspaper bill in front of this committee, the bill that would have allowed big tech and big media to collude,” said Mr. Jordan. “We had a great hearing on that, they’ve dropped that bill, a great hearing.”
At that hearing, Mr. Jordan asserted that the proposed overhaul of antitrust policy involving journalism could give ‘big media’ a cartel power. The bill has not yet reached a mark-up in committee.
Mr. Buck and Mr. Cicilline’s new antitrust proposals did receive a markup by the committee on Wednesday, but Mr. Jordan’s opposition signals obstacles ahead for the bill.