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President-elect Donald Trump will have a rare opportunity to impact U.S. antitrust and consumer protection policy after Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez steps down, creating a third vacancy at the agency.
Never before has a new president had the chance to fill three vacant commission seats, according to FTC spokesman Justin Cole.
“Trump will have the ability to make a real mark on the commission through these appointments,” Carl Hittinger, an antitrust lawyer at Baker & Hostetler LLP, told Bloomberg BNA. “With three brand new commissioners, it’s going to move in a new direction for sure.”
The vacancies give Trump the opportunity to “substantially revise” the FTC’s law enforcement and regulatory agenda, according to Bilal Sayyed, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery. He noted that deregulation across government is expected to be a cornerstone of the Trump administration.
“What’s unique here is the number of open seats that can be filled quickly with people who are in sync with the incoming president,” said Sayyed, who was an adviser to former FTC chairman Tim Muris.
People advising Trump’s transition team on FTC issues include Paul Atkins, chief executive of Patomak Global Partners LLC and a former Republican member of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Ramirez, a Democrat, plans to leave her post effective Feb. 10, leaving the agency with only two commissioners: Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican, and Terrell McSweeny, another Democrat. Joshua Wright, a Republican, and Julie Brill, a Democrat, have left seats that remain empty.
Ohlhausen is widely expected to take over the commission on an acting—if not long-term—basis.
Ramirez was appointed by President Barack Obama and has served as a commissioner since April 2010. She became chairwoman in March 2013, after Jon Leibowitz resigned.
Under her leadership, the agency successfully challenged the mergers of Sysco Corp. and U.S. Foods Inc., as well as Staples Inc. and Office Depot Inc.
Two major deals are still pending review: Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.’s $9.4 billion deal for rival Rite Aid Corp., and Sherwin-Williams Co.’s $9.3 billion agreement to buy Valspar Corp.
Overall, she led the FTC in bringing nearly 400 law enforcement actions covering a range of consumer protection issues and about 100 cases challenging anti-competitive mergers and business conduct, the agency said in a statement. Her priorities included expanding the FTC’s role in studying markets and emerging trends, including the sharing economy, the Internet of Things and big data.
“Chairwoman Ramirez has shown exemplary leadership of the FTC, dealing with cutting edge issues with wisdom and even-handedness,” said Christopher Wolf, of counsel at Hogan Lovells LLP.
Stephen Calkins, an antitrust law professor at Wayne State University and a former general counsel at the FTC, said Ramirez has been “quietly effective” as a leader.
“Hers was a commission with several strong personalities and she kept peace among them; the overwhelming majority of the agency’s accomplishments were bipartisan even if not unanimous,” Calkins said.
Ramirez “also successfully resisted congressional efforts to weaken the agency,” Calkins said. Those efforts included passage of the SMARTER Act, which would have aligned the FTC’s merger review process with that of the Justice Department.
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