WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren put a “hold” on the confirmation of Makan Delrahim, President Trump’s nominee to run the Justice Department’s antitrust division, delaying a vote until at least September, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The delay means Delrahim remains on the outside as Justice Department lawyers wrap up their investigation of AT&T Inc. and Time Warner Inc.’s proposed $85.4 billion merger and start early talks with company representatives about possible conditions that could secure approval. AT&T’s bid for the owner of CNN and HBO would reshape the media landscape and has drawn fire from Trump.
Warren has described the nomination of Delrahim, a former lobbyist for Anthem Inc. and other companies pursuing mergers, as an indication that Trump’s administration will “put the interests of giant corporations ahead of the American people,” according to an April 3 post on her Facebook page.
The Massachusetts Democrat last year warned that rising concentration across markets, from airlines to Internet service providers to technology platforms, is reducing consumer choice, hurting small businesses and undermining economic security for middle-class Americans. She called on the Justice Department to block more mergers, saying settlements that allow deals to proceed often don’t work.
Those views were echoed in Democrats’ economic agenda unveiled in July, “A Better Deal,” which vowed to get tougher on mergers and monopolies. The proposal calls for new standards that would make it harder for companies to win approval for the biggest deals, and it proposes regular reviews of whether settlements that put conditions on mergers are working as intended.
Delrahim’s name had been expected to be included in a package of confirmations that cleared the Senate Thursday. Warren’s hold meant his nomination couldn’t be advanced on the Senate floor. The two people who discussed the hold spoke on condition of anonymity. A spokeswoman for Warren declined to comment, and Delrahim declined to comment.
The nomination can be considered in a stand-alone vote with support from 60 senators. But that won’t happen until senators return to Washington after their August break, said one of the people. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Delrahim’s nomination 19-1 on June 8.
Seven months into the Trump administration, there are still no permanent antitrust chiefs in place. In addition to the delay on Delrahim, Trump has yet to name a permanent chairman to the Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust enforcement authority with the Justice Department.
If Delrahim is confirmed, the AT&T-Time Warner deal may mark his first major merger decision. Trump blasted the acquisition as a candidate, saying it puts “too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” In January, he softened his tone, saying the government still had to review the details. In addition to the Time Warner acquisition, the Justice Department is reviewing Bayer AG’s proposed takeover of Monsanto Co.
Lawmakers have been pressuring the administration over the AT&T deal. Warren and fellow Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, among others, said in June the deal would lead to higher prices and fewer choices for consumers and urged the Justice Department to consider blocking it. They argued that conditions to regulate AT&T’s behavior would be unenforceable and unreliable.