WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm the head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, which will decide the fate of deals like AT&T Inc’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Inc and the merger of Bayer AG and Monsanto Co.
The Senate voted 73 to 21 to confirm Delrahim.
The Senate also confirmed Heath Tarbert, by a vote of 87 to 8, to be an assistant secretary of the Treasury. He is expected to oversee the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which assesses proposed transactions to ensure they do not harm national security.
Tarbert, now at the law firm Allen & Overy LLP, will take the reins of CFIUS at a time when the inter-agency panel has balked at approving deals involving Chinese buyers in areas as disparate as semiconductors, insurance and aluminum.
The confirmations mean that the Trump administration, after eight months, will finally have two of the top people in place who decide if mergers may go forward. Their first decisions will give investors a framework to use to decide which deals to push.
As head of the Antitrust Division, Delrahim will oversee a department that decides whether to allow multibillion dollar corporate mergers and acquisitions and also whether to seek jail terms for executives guilty of price-fixing.
Delrahim is currently deputy assistant to the president.
As a candidate, President Donald Trump pledged to stop the AT&T purchase of Time Warner. He has not repeated that since becoming president.
Delrahim said in May that he would decline to discuss antitrust matters with the White House.
“The independence of the decisions made in prosecuting and reviewing mergers as well as other conduct is a serious one that should be free from any political influence,” he said. “They will be free if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed.”
Trump has three other major antitrust positions to fill. The Federal Trade Commission, which should have five people, needs a permanent chairman and two commissioners, one Republican and one who is either a Democrat or an independent.
Antitrust experts who have followed Delrahim’s career expect him to follow in the footsteps of a former boss, Hewitt Pate, who headed the division from 2003 to 2005.
Under Pate, the division was criticized for allowing too many deals, but it sued to stop US Airways from merging with United Airlines and blocked a deal to combine DirecTV and EchoStar Corp.
Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Susan Thomas and David Gregorio