The Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm President Joe Biden's nominee, Alvaro Bedoya, to fill an empty seat on the Federal Trade Commission after Republicans for months tried to block the nomination. Bedoya's confirmation gives Democrats a majority on the FTC, which will give Chair Lina Khan a chance to move forward with her ambitious agenda to rein in the power of Big Tech.
The vote was split 50-50 among senators voting in favor of and against Bedoya's nomination. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate.
Bedoya's nomination had been deadlocked for months by Republicans in the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer used a procedural process called a discharge petition to bypass Republican opposition and move the vote to the full Senate.
Biden had nominated Bedoya, a Georgetown law professor who is a sharp critic of facial recognition software and other surveillance technologies, in September, after former FTC commissioner Rohit Chopra left the agency to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Since then, the nomination has languished, and the FTC has operated with a 2-2 split commission between Democrats and Republicans. As a result, FTC Chair Khan was unable to advance her progressive agenda, which includes toughening rules on mergers and data privacy, which could mean big changes for how large tech companies operate.
Now that Khan has a majority, she is expected to be more aggressive in antitrust enforcement of tech giants, such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. She's also expected to introduce new privacy regulations that would affect how these digital platforms collect and monetize consumer data.
"Alvaro's knowledge, experience, and energy will be a great asset to the FTC as we pursue our critical work," Khan tweeted Wednesday afternoon. "I'm excited to begin working with him, along with our other Commissioners, once his appointment is made final by President Biden."
Bedoya, who founded Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology, is known as a privacy hawk. His research as an academic has raised concerns about surveillance technology and how its use by the US government can have devastating effects on immigrants and people of color. Bedoya previously worked as a staffer for former Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat of Minnesota, and he became the first chief counsel of the US Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law.
Republicans opposed Bedoya because they accused him of being too partisan. Several Republicans criticized Bedoya for past tweets on political topics, such as immigration, that they say suggest he'd be a polarizing figure on the FTC.
"I remain concerned by the frequency with which he has publicly expressed divisive views on policy matters rather than using a more measured and unifying tone," said Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi and the ranking Republican on the Commerce Committee, in March.
Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said in a statement that Bedoya's confirmation "is good news for the American people."
"Mr. Bedoya's confirmation is pivotal to unshackling the FTC and fully examining record energy company profits and inflated prices at the pump," Schumer said. "With the FTC at full membership, this important agency will be empowered to drive full steam ahead in cracking down on bad actor companies who are using anticompetitive practices, inflation, and price manipulation to bilk consumers and drive up profits."
With Bedoya seated on the FTC, consumer advocates are pushing for Schumer to use the same procedural process to move forward another stalled Biden nomination, Gigi Sohn for the Federal Communications Commission.
Sohn, who was nominated in October, has had two hearings on her nomination and has faced opposition from Republicans who have taken issue with some of her tweets that they say are too partisan. Sohn, an outspoken consumer advocate who served as an adviser to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, helped write the 2015 net neutrality regulations that were thrown out under President Donald Trump's FCC. She's been public about her intention to get new rules back on the books.
Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, a consumer advocacy group, applauded the Senate's confirmation of Bedoya. But she said it was time that Democrats move to confirm Sohn to the FCC.
"Nearly everything that Democratic leadership in Congress and the Biden administration have promised when it comes to digital rights, broadband equity, and net neutrality depends on having a fully staffed FCC," she said in a statement. "Democrats need to show that they can lead."