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Tim Wu, architect of Biden's antitrust push, will leave the White House

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Tim Wu, a central architect of President Biden’s effort to clip the wings of the nation’s biggest companies, is leaving the White House.

Wu’s last day on the National Economic Council will be Wednesday, ending his 22-month term as special assistant to the president for competition and technology policy, the White House said. Wu told The New York Times that he would return to his previous job as a professor at Columbia Law School.

Wu is one-third of a troika — along with Lina Khan at the Federal Trade Commission and Jonathan Kanter at the Department of Justice — leading Washington’s attempts to more aggressively rein in corporate giants, including the biggest tech companies. He authored a July 2021 executive order requiring federal agencies to take steps to increase competition in the economy. Mrs. Khan and Mr. Kanter tried to block corporate consolidation using unusual arguments in court.

Wu, 50, said personal reasons led to his departure. He has been traveling from New York to Washington, he said, requiring him to spend periods away from his young children.

“There is a time when the burden of family is too much,” Wu said. “I have been feeling that the balance has shifted.”

Wu said he took office believing it was a “once-in-a-generation chance” to reverse decades of more conservative thinking in antitrust law. The government has scored some victories on that front – such as enacting parts of the 2021 executive order, which led to government efforts to open up charging networks for electric vehicles and make hearing aids available for purchase over the counter.

“I think I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve re-established a presidential role in competition policy and economic structure,” he said.

But antitrust legislation to ban common practices used by tech giants, a goal of many progressives, has failed to become law.

Wu said it was “disappointing” that technology-related legislation had not been passed during his term and defended White House efforts to push for the antitrust measure. “We have supported you along the way,” he said, adding: “We have repeatedly and unconditionally expressed support for a bipartisan bill of this nature.”

Wu said he was pleased with the aggressive action taken by the FTC and the Department of Justice, the two main federal antitrust regulators, over the past two years. The agencies, run by political representatives, work independently of the White House.

Although the Department of Justice blocked Penguin Random House from purchasing Simon & Schuster, the courts have ruled against several other merger challenges. The FTC has also filed a lawsuit to stop Facebook parent Meta and Microsoft from buying companies in recent months; these efforts face stiff legal challenges.

Hannah Garden-Monheit, who was involved in the antitrust executive order, will take over her antitrust policy work. Elizabeth Kelly, who works on digital asset policy for the National Economic Council, will inherit her portfolio of technology policy issues, the White House said. Bharat Ramamurti, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, will continue to oversee both areas.

Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, said in a statement that over the past two years the administration has reignited “a great American tradition of presidential leadership in competition policy going back to the era of Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt.” He added that the government would “continue to institutionalize pro-competition bipartisan reforms across all agencies.”

Asked what to expect in the coming years, Mr. Ramamurti pointed to the demands laid out in the 2021 executive order.

“We have all these different levers that we can pull – people, the judiciary, you know, the agencies – and we’re working through all of that,” he said.