Antitrust Suits and a Hail Mary

Facebook is hit with separate antitrust suits, while Republican state attorneys general file a legal Hail Mary to delay the election certification. It’s Thursday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

The effort to rein in the power of social media companies took a big step forward yesterday at both the federal and state levels, as the Federal Trade Commission and 46 states, the District of Columbia and Guam filed two separate lawsuits against Facebook.

Organized independently, the state and federal suits both argued that Facebook had become an effective monopoly by buying up rivals, and they called for those acquisitions to be rolled back. This follows a similar lawsuit against Google that the Justice Department filed two months ago, arguing that the search giant had developed an illegal monopoly by buying up and suppressing competition. If successful, the suits would reshape the social media industry.

Federal lawsuits of this scale are rarely undertaken without a high level of confidence, and they don’t tend to come up empty-handed. But the cases, which come after a disagreement within the F.T.C. about whether to bring suit at all, will face a judiciary system drastically transformed after a Trump administration that put a high priority on confirming judges, taking advantage of the Republican Senate.

Both lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, also reflect a new level of bipartisan consensus about the ill effects of corporate consolidation in Big Tech.

Hunter Biden said yesterday that federal prosecutors were investigating his “tax affairs,” inevitably adding to the conservative media intrigue around President-elect Joe Biden’s son.

Hunter Biden has had his share of difficulties with the Internal Revenue Service: In 2017, he and his estranged first wife owed $313,970 in taxes, according to a filing she submitted in their divorce case. A year later, the I.R.S. issued a lien against Biden and his then ex-wife for $112,805 in unpaid taxes; the lien was eventually released after those taxes were apparently paid.

Much of the media feeding frenzy around Hunter Biden centers on his role at Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company owned by an oligarch widely seen as corrupt, where Biden was paid at least $50,000 a month to serve on the board. He also advised a wealthy Romanian business executive facing corruption charges, and invested in an equity fund linked to the Chinese government.

“I take this matter very seriously but I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers,” Hunter Biden said in a statement released yesterday.

The president-elect is expected to select Katherine Tai, the head lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, as the U.S. trade representative for his administration. She would be the first woman of color to hold the position.

Working in the House, she helped to establish bipartisan agreement on the new North American Free Trade Agreement last year. Before that, she worked for the Office of the United States Trade Representative from 2007 to 2014, successfully prosecuting several cases on Chinese trade practices at the World Trade Organization.

Biden has said that negotiating new free trade agreements is not at the top of his priorities list; instead, Tai is more likely to focus on enforcing existing agreements and integrating elements of Biden’s agenda — including fighting climate change and promoting Buy American programs — into U.S. trade policy around the world.

Republican attorneys general in 17 states announced their support yesterday for a lawsuit before the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election. In their brief, the attorneys general argued — with scant evidence — that “serious concerns relating to election integrity and public confidence in elections” had surfaced.

The suit they joined had been filed Tuesday by the attorney general in Texas, Ken Paxton, who claims that voting irregularities in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin should be investigated by the state legislatures before Biden is declared the winner.

Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “It looks like we have a new leader in the ‘craziest lawsuit filed to purportedly challenge the election’ category.” The 17 attorneys general all represent states Trump won in November.

Trump has asked Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to argue the case if it does reach the Supreme Court, and Cruz agreed, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

Photo of the day

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, met virtually yesterday with President-elect Joe Biden’s economic team, including Janet Yellen, Neera Tanden, Adewale Adeyemo and Cecilia Rouse.

McAuliffe enters the race for Virginia governor as expected — but he has company.

Terry McAuliffe yesterday made official what had long been tacitly acknowledged: He’s entering the race for governor and wants to win back the office he held from 2014 to 2018.

He joins what had been an all-Black Democratic primary field peopled with three younger candidates: Jennifer McClellan, a state senator; Jennifer Carroll Foy, who has given up her seat in the House of Delegates to campaign for governor full time; and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

As Reid J. Epstein reports, more than ever in the state’s recent history, next year’s Democratic primary will probably matter more than the general election, as the state has grown solidly blue over the past decade. In that way, it poses a fresh test for the Democratic establishment, and a staging ground for the ideas of young progressive leaders of color as the crowded field of candidates competes to challenge McAuliffe.

“While I respect Terry McAuliffe’s service, he doesn’t understand the problems Virginians face,” Carroll Foy, who at 39 is the youngest candidate in the field, said in a statement this week. “A former political party boss and multimillionaire, Terry McAuliffe is simply out of touch with everyday Virginians.”

On her website, McClellan’s campaign calls her “a driving force for progressive change in Virginia,” and highlights her commitment to “progress, equity, and justice.”

In his remarks announcing his candidacy, McAuliffe highlighted his achievements as governor while also seeking to paint himself as an agent of change who would seek bold solutions. “The old Richmond approach just doesn’t work anymore,” he said yesterday in a brief speech outside a public school in Richmond, the capital. “Folks, it is time for a new Virginia way.”

A longtime Democratic insider who is a close friend of Bill Clinton’s, McAuliffe said his campaign would focus on rebuilding the state’s economy after the pandemic, and would promise to make a historic investment in public education.

From Opinion: The status food fight underlying Trumpism

Imagine a white guy — perhaps one ZIP code away from a booming gentrifying city — who grew up in an economically mobile household but who also hasn’t seen his real wages increase since he entered the work force, like the typical American male worker who earned less in 2014 than in 1973. These days, he can’t even really afford to take his wife on a fancy dinner date. Yet ever since the Obama administration, from what this guy can see — or lets himself see and is pushed by a conservative media-sphere to see — minorities who make more money than him or have higher status are plentiful but claim that they’re oppressed.

Of course, we don’t have to imagine this guy, or his views, because those views are a very rough approximation of how many people feel. And it’s not surprising that President Trump appealed to them. As Thomas B. Edsall wrote in his column this week, the president’s campaign “and the Republican Party have fought to enhance the status of white Christians and white people without college degrees: the white working and middle class.” However lacking in context or empathy their grievances may be, “rising anxiety over declining social status tells us a lot about how we got here and where we’re going” in American politics. In the coming years, it could become, as the headline for the piece puts it, “The Resentment That Never Sleeps.”

“Diminished status has become a source of rage on both the left and right, sharpened by divisions over economic security and insecurity, geography and, ultimately, values,” he writes.

As Cecilia L. Ridgeway, a professor at Stanford, told him: “Status has always been part of American politics, but right now a variety of social changes have threatened the status of working class and rural whites who used to feel they had a secure, middle status position in American society — not the glitzy top, but respectable, ‘Main Street’ core of America. The reduction of working-class wages and job security, growing demographic diversity, and increasing urbanization of the population have greatly undercut that sense and fueled political reaction.”

— Talmon Smith

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