>> Trust-busting in the 21st century, this week on "Firing Line."
>> The best thing would be to admit that we have a huge monopoly problem here across the board.
>> She's a plainspoken Midwesterner who calls herself "The Senator Next Door"... >> We don't let a little snow stop us.
>> ...and ran for president in 2020 before introducing President Biden on Inauguration Day.
>> Welcome to the 59th presidential inauguration.
>> Now Senator Amy Klobuchar is focused on America's modern-day monopolies and mega-mergers.
>> You're one of the most successful companies, biggest companies in the world, Mr. Zuckerberg.
Do you think that this is fair competition or not?
>> As Facebook and Apple, Google and Amazon creep further into our lives, what does Senator Amy Klobuchar say now?
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> Senator Amy Klobuchar, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> Well, thank you, Margaret.
It's wonderful to be on.
>> The issue of trust-busting was much discussed on the original version of "Firing Line" with William F. Buckley Jr. And your new book, "Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age," offers the perfect opportunity to look at this topic anew in 2021.
Today there are fewer than 5,000 public companies, down from 8,500 in 1997.
A lot of that is because of mergers and acquisitions.
Senator, what does this tell us?
>> Well, I think what it tells us is that we are a country that has always believed in entrepreneurship and revitalizing, rejuvenating capitalism, and we've reached a moment where we just can't sit back and say, "Oh, this is happening to us," not when we have tech companies that are controlling the gateways to so many services, not when we're seeing consolidation across the board and consumers see it in everything from cable prices to farmers trying to get goods to market to EpiPens to insulin.
We believe, and I believe, as someone who worked in the private sector for 14 years -- I believe in this market economy.
But we have always, from the very beginning, believed you needed checks and balances.
Those have eroded, and it's time to bring them back.
>> You often end your speeches actually saying... How has your family history and also your personal experience when you were in private practice influenced your work on this issue?
>> Well, I feel like this moment in time where I wrote this book, which I think no one could believe there is a book by a senator called "Antitrust," but I figured it was a good metaphor for the whole world right now -- anti-trust.
And I really go back to the beginning.
My relatives on my dad's side were miners.
They were brought over from Slovenia to work the mines.
It was great.
It gave them opportunities they didn't have before.
But the point of it is, over time, they started to be able to go to school, and they started to have safety rules in the mines -- people used to die all the time -- because workers organized and people took it on.
And my grandma vowed that her kids would be the first ones that would break away from that and not just make money for the monopolists, but start their own careers.
And my dad became a newspaperman and interviewed everyone from Ronald Reagan to Mike Ditka to Ginger Rogers.
And that was because of entrepreneurship in America.
So that's my roots.
I go on to represent MCI in the private sector, and I got a firsthand look at when monopolies were trying to push them back so they couldn't get into the market.
We were on the side of consumers.
I end up in the Senate, and I'm on the Judiciary Committee and end up heading up, along with Mike Lee, the Antitrust Subcommittee.
And I then saw the horror of what happens when you've got out-of-hand monopolies.
Really, as I start in the book telling the story of my own, really, failure in trying to get these drug companies to do a better job of how they were charging people with infants that had a heart defect.
And when one company cornered the market and bought both drugs, that was it.
Treatment went from $85 a treatment to $1,600 a treatment.
And it's just wrong.
And if I can't get this done, I have to ask for help from the people and work across the aisle and try to do something to rejuvenate this movement again.
>> You write in your book a history of antitrust in the United States, and you talk about Republican Teddy Roosevelt, who was known as the original trustbuster, going after the railroads and after the oil companies.
And he said this in 1912.
Take a listen.
What do you think Teddy Roosevelt would make of the current state of competition in this country?
>> Teddy Roosevelt was a maverick, and what I loved about him was he, you know, came from money, he respected capitalism, but he realized when things were out of sync, and he rode that antitrust horse right into the White House.
And I think what he would see today would horrify him, because all the work he did to get us through that Gilded Age, as well as President Wilson and many others and Senator Sherman, everything they did to get us through that, it's come back again.
And you just got to go to the basics to understand -- Teddy Roosevelt was not against capitalism.
He was a Republican president.
Senator Sherman was a Republican senator.
There's always been this belief in economic liberty.
That's why our earliest settlers came from England -- for religious freedom, for political freedom, and for economic freedom.
They didn't want to buy their tea from a monopoly tea company.
And so when you believe in that, you see today's world reflected in that lens of history, and you see we cannot let this keep going.
We know it.
As one of -- a very famous former Minnesota senator once said, Hubert Humphrey, "If you don't write history, someone else will write it for us."
Well, right now, the tech companies are writing our history, and you see it in the insurrection and you see it in the misinformation about the vaccine, and it must stop.
And the way you stop it is not to destroy them.
Please don't confuse my zealousness on this issue with wanting to bring down these major tech companies that have given us so much.
It is about divesting their assets, putting conditions in place, allowing competitors to develop the bells and whistles on privacy and misinformation that they have failed to do.
>> It's clear that you recognize that antitrust is not, perhaps, the sexiest issue on Capitol Hill or the easiest issue for voters to understand and digest.
You even cite a segment from John Oliver.
Take a look at this.
>> We seem to have forgotten how important antitrust is, and now we're all being forced to live with the consequences, because this issue affects almost everything you do.
Angry at banks?
Well, the industry is dominated by just these four.
Frustrated with your health insurance provider?
Odds are it's one of these.
And if this whole story's infuriating you so much that you are yearning for the sweet escape of death, well, bad luck, because the casket industry is controlled by these three companies.
>> Senator, is bigger bad?
>> No, not necessarily.
You can have big companies in a competitive market that are truly competitive, and you see that across the American economy.
But what's bad is when you have a monopoly, a duopoloy, or maybe just three companies, as just happened with Sprint and T-Mobile merging in what had been a highly competitive market, and over time, competition erodes.
One amusing point -- Since Oliver put out that piece, one of the casket makers bought the other, so there are only two casket makers right now in the U.S.
So I'm not against big companies.
I'm against no competition.
I want to see competition, 'cause that's what capitalism thrives on.
>> You write...
So my question, Senator, if Americans didn't buy their goods on Amazon, would prices be cheaper?
>> Right now, you've got in Amazon a company that does give people some deals, and one of the things you've seen through history is monopolies will underprice, many times, to get people out of the market.
Then eventually the prices creep up.
And I can't tell you when that moment in time will happen, but that is what has tended to happen.
And this doesn't mean, again, that you get rid of Amazon.
It means that you put conditions in, things like you can't self-preference your own products, which Google has been proven to do in the past, as well.
You have to allow access.
I think the best example of this right now is the app stores, where Google and Apple are basically saying to companies like Spotify and Tile and Match.com, all of whom testified before our hearing that Senator Lee and I had a few weeks ago, they have to pay up to 30% of what they get off of the revenue off of people going to their app.
Other companies don't, and there was a really interesting exchange between Senator Lee and the Apple witness about why this would be that they get to pick and choose who has to pay 30% and who doesn't.
And so all of this, to me, cries out for some rules of the road, because monopolies will do what monopolies want to do, and it hurts people eventually for price, it hurts them from innovation, and it hurts them even when it comes to wages and the like.
>> Let me ask you about Target, which is a corporation in your home state, has a market cap of $106 billion, sells everything from books to bathing suits to electronics, and it even sells its own products that compete with products from other suppliers.
People love Target.
Would you be inclined to try to evaluate and stop a merger between Target and another large retailer?
>> Well, if it hurts competition, yes.
I think it goes into any -- It doesn't matter to me if it's a hometown company or not.
The other day, someone compared it to me to like app stores.
They said to me, "Well, what's the difference between Apple having an app store and Target?
They also take -- make money off of things sold in their store."
Well, the difference is that if you want to sell on an app store, it's the only game in town.
For Apple phones, you have to go to Apple.
For non-Apple phones, you got to go to Google.
If you're in the middle of Target and you don't like a price, you can go, you can look up on your phone, you can find another price, and you can go over there.
It's a way different situation in a competitive market versus a noncompetitive market.
But if the question is about am I somehow afraid of taking on any companies, no, I'm not.
My issue is Congress has been afraid to do this.
We haven't gotten one thing done.
I have 25 ideas of things we could move forward on, and all right now it is is a bunch of talk.
>> A couple points on that.
So, Google, for example, has purchased a firm at the rate of one every 18 days over the last decade.
Alright, the five tech companies -- Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple -- are now worth a combined $8 trillion.
The combined market share of the Big Five companies has soared even more during the COVID pandemic as people have relied, increasingly, on technology.
Can you, Senator, give us an example of a business practice employed by one of those companies that you consider harmful to consumers?
So I think the business practice of, let's say, Facebook deciding they just want to buy up every small competitor in their area, I think that's harmful to competitors, and let me say why.
First of all, we know it's true.
We have the e-mails as Exhibit A from Mark Zuckerberg in which he said, "I'd rather buy than compete."
This came out in Cicilline's hearings in the House.
And he also said, "These brands may be nascent."
Then he said the magic words, "But they could be disruptive to us."
So he bought them because he wanted to make sure they didn't become disruptive to them.
So what does this mean for consumers?
Well, maybe Instagram and WhatsApp would have developed the misinformation bells and whistles and the privacy bells and whistles that would have put us in a much better place and people would have gravitated over to those platforms.
We will never know that because they were bought out by the big guy on the block, and that is Facebook.
When you look at the app stores, we won't know about all the companies that have come to me that don't want their names known that they've had to pull back on things.
They are never even allowed to blossom.
They can start up, but their only way to really go up is by being bought out by the big guys.
That is not capitalism as we want it to work.
>> You write that... How would you grade the Obama administration's antitrust policies, especially with respect to Big Tech?
>> I will say that they had some major issues there, and I am not afraid to point that out in the book.
I have an interview in there from Kara Swisher interviewing Gene Sperling, you know, in which he was honest.
He said, "Look, when I look back at Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp and Instagram now, we should've done something."
And I think people were so enamored with tech at the time.
You know, they said, "Trust us," and everyone believed them, and they were great American companies employing people.
That's all true.
So they just kind of let it go.
You add to that the sophistication of these companies and the fact that Congress, as we know from some of the questioning, didn't really -- weren't able to cope with it.
You've got multiple problems in them taking it on.
Now we've reached a different point, because we have seen the bad.
We have seen the misinformation on vaccines and the like.
We have seen the privacy and the data mining that goes on where we are nothing but profit centers.
So what are we gonna do, just step back and say, "This is too complicated.
We're not gonna do something"?
I don't buy it, and I thought the app hearing that Senator Lee and I had just shows that we actually are onto this now, and we are ready to do some sensible, rational things to take this on.
>> Take a look at some of the statements from you and your colleagues during that recent subcommittee hearing in April.
>> Just because a company creates a successful, innovative business that consumers like doesn't give it a free pass to harm competition or ignore our antitrust laws.
>> Google and Apple are here to defend the patently indefensible.
>> Apple is happy to jerry-rig the rules.
>> We've got witnesses here telling us that they're scared.
>> It's fair to say that both sides of the aisle are uncomfortable with the growing power in Big Tech.
Does bipartisan consensus extend to finding solutions?
>> It has to, and I think this is the year we're gonna find out whether or not it does.
There's been a lot of talk, but the time is to get things done.
And the first test is literally gonna be this week with this simple bill to change the fee structure, and can we get this through?
And I know that Senator Grassley is devoted to this, as is, actually, Senator Blackburn, in moving this bill forward.
Republicans are constantly coming up to me on everything from cattle prices to grocers to what's happening with pharma, and so we are gonna have to break down -- what I think we'll have to do -- my bill, 'cause I don't believe in monopolies.
I'm willing to break it up into sections that we have Republican support on and keep pushing through different things.
And I was so pleased with that hearing because, yes, we have different -- strong differences of opinions about why we have problems in this country, and they tend to go on this content issue and, "Liberals work at tech," and that kind of stuff.
I just think, "We're not gonna get consensus on that."
And I don't agree with them, so let's move forward on the stuff we do agree on, which is, how do we stop exclusionary conduct, and how do we change the merger standard going forward, and how do we make sure the agencies are funded so they can actually do their jobs?
Those are three basic things we can do.
>> So conservative legal giant Robert Bork, who you write about in your book, appeared on "Firing Line" with William F. Buckley Jr. several times.
His seminal book, "The Antitrust Paradox," was recently re-released with a new introduction written by your colleague Senator Mike Lee.
>> Yeah, I know.
>> Josh Hawley, on the other hand, the GOP senator from Missouri, has aligned himself very firmly with the Brandeisians, who take the opposite view of the Borkians when it comes to the larger antitrust debate.
You, Senator, seem to be somewhere in the middle of them, which is a wild place to be.
What are your guiding principles for how you approach antitrust?
>> I have to tell you, you're the first person that's interviewed me that actually gets this Hawley-Lee dichotomy.
>> It's crazy!
>> I know.
Thank you for bringing it up.
Let me start with Mike Lee.
He and I are good friends.
I was so glad he joined me on this app store.
We did the whole thing together.
We went after Apple when they wouldn't give us a witness.
We're questioning Google about why someone called to intimidate -- get this -- Match.com the day before the hearing to clearly try to get them not to testify.
So we have disagreements on a few major issues, and one of them is I think Bork has done great damage to the standard of antitrust, but once again, it's an example -- I find common ground where I can find it.
On Josh Hawley, I've not read his book yet.
I know that he is in favor of doing something about exclusionary conduct, and I think that is important.
But that all being said, if we just wait for the courts to change their mind on what they've been doing, we will be waiting 50 years, 100 years.
That's why Congress has to reinterpret these laws and make very clear where we are by making some changes to make the laws as sophisticated as the economy we're in, and we also have to make sure the agencies have the funding to do their jobs under the existing laws.
We can't wait on the courts.
>> In 1980, William F. Buckley Jr. welcomed the editor of Barron's Weekly, Robert Bleiberg, to a discussion called "Is Big Business Out of Hand?"
>> We both desire anti-monopoly legislation and to the extent that it's -- >> No, you speak for yourself, Bill.
>> You don't desire anti-monopoly legislation?
>> No, I think the marketplace is the most effective anti-monopoly agent I'm aware of.
>> Now, wait a minute, Bob.
You mean to say that I'm going to set up a rival utility company?
>> You're not talking about a free market to begin with, Bill.
>> Senator, how do you respond to the argument we just heard from Buckley's guest that the marketplace is the most effective way to curb monopolies?
>> I greatly respect the marketplace, but even Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, always warned constantly about the standing army of monopolies -- that's what he called them -- and that we would always have to have a check and balance.
That's what Buckley -- That's why he's so incredulous about this, because he got it, that once you have a situation where you have one or two companies dominating, it's very hard for capitalism to work.
And he wanted it to work.
I want it to work.
And that means the antitrust laws and other checks and balances.
There's no incentive for a company that is completely market-dominant to then use a bunch of their money to develop privacy regulations unless they're either afraid of government coming in, which is starting to happen, or they have an opponent, they have a competitor.
And when you don't have the competitors doing things, then you're forcing the government to play their hand and come in.
And I think we should do both things -- regulate some things and have competition.
But I'm actually such a believer in competition that I would like to see that happen first.
That's not happening right now because of monopolies, and I think that's what William F. Buckley was getting into.
And if I could, just one little slight tangential story.
My dad was a columnist, and he was very, very funny in a lot of his writings, and he once wrote some column for the Minneapolis paper about William F. Buckley.
And he sent him a note, Buckley did, that I cherish forever that said, "Mr. Klobuchar, the only one who is wittier than me is you."
>> That's unbelievably high praise.
Do you have that note?
Here's the thing.
It was in one of my dad's books.
I was looking for it for years.
But I read it myself.
>> That's amazing.
Your word for it is good enough for the program.
You've introduced your own version of this anti-monopoly legislation called the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Act.
And one of your proposals is to shift the burden of proof to the merging parties to demonstrate that their merger will not violate the law.
Why is that important?
>> Because it's become harder and harder to prove up these cases.
There was one 15-year period where plaintiffs won zero percentage of the time before the Supreme Court.
So what I do here is, for major, major mergers, saying, "Okay, instead of the government having to prove that this hurts competition, you have to show that it doesn't hurt competition."
And it's just an acknowledgement of the sophisticated nature of the economy right now and the lack of resources on one side or the other.
>> Representative Liz Cheney may end up losing her leadership post in the House GOP Conference for the sin of reminding Republicans that former president Trump's rhetoric continues to undermine the rule of law.
And she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed...
Senator, you're the chair of the Rules Committee in the Senate, and this bill falls squarely in your court.
Will this happen?
>> Well, I've been a supporter of this 9/11-type commission from the beginning, and I hope it does happen.
I know they've been negotiating that over in the House.
At the same time, Senator Blunt, Senator Portman, Senator Peters, and I have joined forces, and we have done an extensive investigation of what happened, mistakes made on the Defense Department's side, the Capitol Police, their leadership.
And I'm proud that this has been completely bipartisan.
We have gotten some pretty damning information out of the public hearings.
And we look at it not as much as uncovering a scandal as looking at solutions going forward.
As Liz Cheney said in that very important piece that she wrote for The Washington Post, the number-one thing is the prosecutions and letting those go without political involvement, making sure they continue and the investigations continue of the people involved in this.
We don't want history to repeat itself, and I really admire the courage she's had here to stand up to say that, along with Mitt Romney and a few others.
My proudest moment as a senator so far was when Senator Blunt and Vice President Pence and I were walking through the broken glass, just the three of us, with two young women holding that mahogany box full of the ballots that still hadn't been counted at 3:00 in the morning and walking over to the House chamber, where Representative Cheney and Speaker Pelosi and everyone was there to take those ballots to finish our job.
This is our democracy.
There is a moment where politics end at the door.
And Liz Cheney gets that.
And that's why -- one of the reasons I've taken this on in my book "Antitrust," because I see these monopolies and what's happening right now as also a major threat to our democracy and our way of life, and I'm willing to come out and say it.
So that's what this is about.
>> Senator Amy Klobuchar, thank you for joining me on "Firing Line."
>> This was an incredibly interesting conversation, and I look forward to being on again.
>> We'll welcome you anytime.
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible in part by... And by... Corporate funding is provided by... ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ >> You're watching PBS.