Congress against Elon Musk? Don’t count on it.

Or maybe not.

Interviews with the heads of committees actually responsible for Twitter suggest that Congress has little clout — and even less political will — to pursue Musk at its next session. The senators who pound Musk the hardest, like Markey and Warren, don’t have much authority to get him to a hearing. And senators who do have the power to drag Musk in front of a podium like the Senate Chair of Commerce Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the new head of the House Energy and Trade Committee, are reluctant to get involved. In interviews on Capitol Hill, both largely declined to discuss Musk’s Twitter shenanigans and how they might respond.

Even Thursday’s letter to the FTC suggests Congress is less keen on directly targeting Musk. Sure, it sounds like tough talk — but FTC Chair Lina Khan, an aggressive enforcer, whose agency maintains a strict consent decree against Twitter about past data breaches, hardly needs encouragement. Just last week, her agency took that unusual move to warn Twitter directly that it is following recent developments relating to Musk “with great concern.” With that in mind, Thursday’s call for an FTC investigation looks more like Congress stepping in from the sidelines than pushing the issue (although that hasn’t stopped Musk from doing so). Trolling legislators over the letter).

Politically, it’s not clear that either party has a strong incentive to succeed Musk. The top Democrats have a busy schedule and a list of other tech policy priorities they need to address in the next term. And Republicans preparing to take on committee leadership positions in January have another reason to keep their powder dry: unlike Mark Zuckerberg or Twitter’s previous management, they how Musk, a rare tech tycoon who shares his belief that the industry is stifling conservative voices.

That doesn’t mean Musk doesn’t have anything to worry about in Washington. The FTC could still make life miserable for him (and make his acquisition of Twitter even more expensive). Moral support aside, the agency is unlikely to get much help from Congress in holding him accountable.

“I don’t want to come across as a tech brother who says Congress doesn’t matter because I think Congress has an oversight role here,” Nu Wexler said. a longtime former staffer for Congressional Democrats who has also held jobs at Twitter, Google, and Facebook. “I just think it’s probably not as easy as people would like it to be.”

Few ways forward

Even some left-leaning proponents aren’t sure there’s an obvious catch for Congress to investigate Musk’s reckless — but not easily problematic from a political perspective — behavior on Twitter.

“It’s difficult because Musk is a private individual,” said Alex Petros, policy adviser at progressive tech group Public Knowledge and a former Democratic Senate staffer. “He makes a lot of private business decisions that I think are stupid and don’t agree with me. But he has a degree of freedom to make those business mistakes and lose money with his fist.”

Some congressional committees typically targeting technology companies First and foremost are the judiciary committees in both chambers might struggle to find their way into the Twitter tumult. Despite being popular in political circles, the tech platform is a minnow compared to social media giants like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. These size differences could make it difficult to examine Twitter through the lens of a competition. And another avenue for congressional scrutiny isn’t exactly obvious.

“Congress can’t moderate speeches, Twitter collects less data than its competitors and it’s not big enough to be an antitrust target,” Wexler said.

If Musk chooses to Turn Twitter into an online payment platform, which could expose the company to oversight by Capitol Hill financial regulators. But sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), head of the Senate Banking Committee, is in no hurry to speak to Twitter’s new owner.

“Maybe someday,” Brown said when asked Tuesday about bringing Musk in for a hearing. “We have so many slots that a number of oversight and regulatory people are already getting involved.” Brown later said there was “no rush.”

Some House lawmakers are also wondering how Congress would step in to stop the billionaire leapfrog. “We don’t have much oversight of Musk,” he said Suzan Del Bene (D-Wash.), leader of the New Democrats’ moderate coalition and a often skeptical of congressional efforts to contain tech platforms.

“I have no comment on that”

Unlike banks or the judiciary, both the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee do jurisdiction over Twitter and whether its conduct endangers users. Markey is himself a member of the Senate for Commerce, the caused many to suggest the committee would soon cause trouble for Musk.

However, some progressives say there isn’t much evidence (so far, at least) that Musk’s Twitter has committed violations that require immediate oversight by either body. “I think there is a consumer protection aspect, but it definitely needs to be fleshed out more,” Petros said.

Given the busy calendar, it’s unlikely that either committee will find time to summon Musk for questioning before January. And more broadly, the chairmen of both committees seem less concerned about the billionaire’s social media shenanigans.

“I have no comment on that today,” Senate Commerce Secretary Cantwell said Tuesday when asked if she plans to aggressively lean on Musk. She briefly mentioned Democrats’ interest in “a stronger FTC” — an implicit suggestion that the Consumer Protection Agency is better placed to address any issues.

Even Markey isn’t convinced of a commerce hearing for Musk, or any other possible ramifications. “We’re going to cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said Wednesday, suggesting waiting for Musk to respond to his response (or not). Letter to fake accounts before the November 25 deadline.

Things are even rosier for Musk in the House, which will fall under Republican control in January. representative Frank Pallone (DN.J.), the outgoing E&C chairman, declined to comment on Musk and Twitter on Tuesday. And McMorris Rodgers, the new chairman, was more interested in discussing TikTok.

“I believe TikTok needs to be adopted and we need to answer questions,” McMorris Rodgers said Wednesday in response to questions about Musk and Twitter. “I’m concerned about activity on TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram that facilitates the sale of illegal substances — particularly fentanyl — on those platforms.” (She briefly mentioned oversight of Twitter in the broader “big tech” context, but made it clear that Musk likely won’t be a top priority in the next cycle.)

Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (DN.Y.), one of the most progressive lawmakers in Congress who is more than willing to do so Follow Musk himself on Twittersuggested that relevant House committees would be better off focusing on the cryptocurrency market collapse — at least until more information about Musk’s behavior surfaced on Twitter.

“I’m sure the committee is just monitoring the situation,” she said Tuesday, calling possible oversight of Musk and Twitter “a matter of prioritization.”

Twitter’s Disorganized Hill Policy

Tech companies have long sparked bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill (albeit for very different reasons depending on whether that outrage comes from a Republican or a Democrat). But Musk’s decision to go along with the GOP’s claim that top tech platforms are censoring “free speech” could turn this bipartisan dynamic on its head. If the Democrats try to make an example of Musk for his liberal use of unsavory online content, they will likely be rebuffed by key Republicans.

“There will definitely be certain Republicans who will fall into that corner,” Petros said.

This dynamic seems to be already happening. “Republicans will always protect free speech on these platforms,” ​​McMorris Rodgers said when asked about Musk’s stated interest in restricting Twitter’s content moderation activities. and Sen. ted cruz (R-Texas) — who as the new top Republican in Senate Commerce could make it harder for Democrats to win Musk or other Twitter executives — has repeatedly praised Musk’s purchase the platform. earlier this year he even called the pickup “The most important development for freedom of expression in decades.”

Despite the hurdles, Congress could still play a role in clipping Musk’s new wings. But it may be limited to raising concern among advertisers who remain wary of doing business with a platform inundated with hate speech, disinformation and other content bad for their bottom line.

“Twitter’s presence is more on the PR side, where members can send letters of oversight or hold hearings, creating a steady stream of negative coverage that would spook advertisers,” Wexler said.

And while lawmakers may not be able to do much directly on Twitter — especially given the apathetic response of key members so far — Wexler said an energetic Congress enraged by Musk’s antics could still seek a “bank shot” at his other companies to make line.

“SpaceX is a big government contractor and Tesla sells government EV credits to other automakers, with plenty of opportunities for congressional scrutiny,” Wexler said.

Rebecca Kern and Nancy Vu contributed to this report.

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