Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Republican control of the House, Senate, or both would mark a significant shift for Big Tech on the Hill from Democrats’ privacy and antitrust crusades to the GOP’s chief tech complaint — the platform’s perceived bias against conservative content.
Why it matters: Tuesday’s election results will shape the next two years of technology legislation and hearings in the District of Columbia. But the prospects for new legislation are likely to be even slimmer if Republicans control the congressional agenda and a Democrat remains in the White House.
What they say: “Content is definitely going to be the biggest issue” in the Republican-led Congress, one tech policy executive told Axios. “It is unlikely that anything will be done, but it will be a serious and big problem.”
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, in an outline of the Republican agenda, lists the Republicans’ technology priorities as: “Better protections for privacy and data security, give parents more tools to keep their children safe online, and stop companies from putting politics before people.”
Details: Conservatives in the House have long said they want to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which largely shields tech platforms from liability for what users post.
- Republicans in the House and Senate also want to strengthen antitrust enforcement and relax regulations on app stores, as Democrats do. But conservatives are walking a fine line on the issue, as there is resistance to giving the Federal Trade Commission and its chairman, Lina Hahn, too much power.
- Bills that would crack down on Chinese tech companies that do business in the US or have US customers are also likely.
- Tech executives are also likely to be brought back to the Hill, repeating a Trump administration ritual.
Who to watch: McCarthy has made criticizing Big Tech one of his priorities since the Trump era, and will certainly continue to do so if he takes the House gavel.
- As chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-Washington) will lead the technical effort, focusing on Section 230.
- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) worked with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (R-Minn.) on an antitrust big-tech bill that nearly passed the full Senate last Congress, but efforts to revive the proposal will face more challenges with Republicans on forehead
- Sen. Mike Lee (D-Utah), a Republican on the Judiciary’s Antitrust Subcommittee, is wary of Big Tech, but even more wary of giving too much power to state agencies tasked with overseeing antitrust laws.
Meanwhile: If Democrats retain control of one or both chambers, expect them to continue to wrestle with issues like antitrust laws, online privacy concerns and gaps in content moderation that allow misinformation to spread and children to be put at risk.
Yes but: The Democrats’ technical plan for the past two years has been swept away by shifting priorities and an even division of the Senate.
Intrigue: The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in cases involving Section 230, as well as challenges to laws in Texas and Florida that seek to limit the platforms’ power to moderate content.
- Decisions in such cases could change the landscape of the tech industry far more radically than anything Congress is likely to manage.
What’s next: Whatever happens on Tuesday, the Biden administration says it plans to push Congress to pass antitrust legislation, among other priorities, during the next post-election session.
- “These antitrust bills have bipartisan support, and there’s no reason Congress can’t act before the end of the year,” White House deputy press secretary Emily Simons told Axios.