Biden announced two Democratic nominees for the FCC last week, nominating Jessica Rosenworcel as Chair for a new five year term and net neutrality activist Gigi Son to fill the open seat.
While most Republican senators said that they could live with Rosenworcel, GOP leaders claim they are not happy with Sohn's perceived regulatory bent. They are not in agreement with Democrats pushing to speed up the confirmations.
Jessica Rosenworcel is a Democratic Commissioner since 2012, and was previously a top Senate aide for Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia's former Senate Commerce Chair. She has made it her top priority to connect students to broadband. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Sohn's views will be quite different from mine on all issues, Senator Minority Whip John Thune said to POLITICO. She is very left. She will be very strict in regulation and net neutrality.
She'll be very much, I believe, Big Government taking over the scales, South Dakota Republican added.
Even with the united Republican opposition, Democrats can still pass Sohn's confirmation. But that is only if the entire caucus stays together. This means that the outcome could be decided by the two Democratic senators who played an important role in blocking liberals' plans to expand Medicare, raise taxes on billionaires, and provide free parental leave and community college for Americans.
Although Arizona and West Virginia Democrats have publicly supported Rosenworcel's nomination, neither party has spoken out on Sohn, who was a former top adviser to the Obama-era FCC, and cofounder of the advocacy group Public Knowledge. Sinema has been a Republican supporter of FCC policies and even opposed net neutrality.
Both Sinema and Manchin's spokespersons declined to comment about Sohn.
The Democrats don't have much time on the floor to pass the nominations by year end, given their December deadlines to avoid a shutdown or U.S. default and their efforts to enact Bidens social spending and infrastructure bills.
However, some Sohn supporters aren't panicking yet.
Evan Greer, who is the head of progressive tech advocacy group Fight for the Future said that she believes Sohn could get some GOP votes. Fight for the Future called Sinema corrupt for opposing net neutrality legislation two years ago. Greer stated that this doesn't necessarily mean the senator would deliberately kneecap the FCC during an ongoing pandemic and prevent the first LGBTQ nominee from being appointed to the position.
Gigi is often referred to as a progressive but she's really a principled advocate for public interest. She has been around for a long time, speaks to industry and civil society, is reasonable, thoughtful, and wants to see things through.
What is the reason for GOP anxiety?
Sohn is a well-known telecom operator with a track record of building alliances to support causes like fighting industry consolidation or empowering local governments to create their own internet networks.
However, the same virtues that won her progressive applause also startle the telecom sector. These fears were sparked by word that Biden was considering Sohn as FCC chair. This is a possibility that some Senate voting-counters found challenging.
Sohn's main concern for GOP is the same one that dominated this summer's infrastructure bill negotiations: that Democrats might want to regulate prices broadband providers like Comcast charge customers. This possibility is why Republicans have spent decades opposing net neutrality. They fear that the FCC will gain more regulatory power over broadband networks.
Sohns supported net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC in 2015 specifically avoid rate regulation. The policy was repealed by the Trump-era leadership two years later. She favors tightening government power over broadband and restricting price gouging.
Senators will have the opportunity to examine which policies nominees may support during the confirmation process.
According to Roger Wicker (Mississippi Sen.), Sohn's nomination poses more problems for Republicans than Rosenworcels. Wicker is the top Republican on Congress Committee which will review both nominees. He stated that Sohn's statements and past positions could be of concern to the members of the Commerce Committee in an interview.
Rosenworcel, a former staffer at the FCC and Commerce Committee with broad support on Capitol Hill, has sometimes resisted liberal policy proposals that Sohn supported. These include an Obama-era FCC plan that would have increased competition in the cable set-top box market.
However, a mix of Senate Republicans were not immediately critical of Sohn's actions and stated that they were open to discussing Sohn with them. This could open up the possibility that Sohn, if he is of the right persuasion, may be able to peel off some moderate Republicans who might not feel as troubled by Thune or Wicker. 2018 Republican Senators. Republican Senators. (Kennedy's office declined to comment on Sohn's nomination. Collins and Murkowski didn't respond to a request to comment.
Nevertheless, FCC nomination battles have become more contentious. The Senate approved Donald Trump's nominee for the commission last December on a 49-46 vote.
Even if some Republicans did back Sohn, it would likely be on top of unified Democratic caucus support to avoid clinching confirmation and a subsequent FCC Democratic majority, a veteran telecom policy observer told POLITICO. He requested anonymity to speak honestly. The observer said that moderate Democrats are critical.
There is no time to waste
Worse, the Democrats are being squeezed by the fact that Biden waited longer to name someone to head the FCC. This agency oversees the wireless internet, the telecom networks, and the TV market. Many FCC nominations in the past have been delayed for months as nominees tried to placate lawmakers.
Rosenworcel must resign from the commission if she is not confirmed by the Senate before December's adjournment. Her term expires last year. If Sohn does not join the FCC, Republicans will have a 2-1 lead in the new year.
In this scenario, Democrats would continue to be in charge of the agency with Geoffrey Starks, a single Democrat, acting as the chair. He could also set the agenda for commission meetings. He would not be able to overcome Republican opposition to Biden's progressive goals like net neutrality rules, which would prevent ISPs blocking or throttle consumers internet traffic.
Even if Rosenworcel is fast tracked by the Senate, the FCC would still be in a 2-2 deadlock unless Sohn wins confirmation.
Republicans are generally open to Rosenworcel's nomination and it seems that she could be nominated faster than Sohns. Although Rosenworcel's philosophy differs from hers, she voted for net Neutrality in 2015. After all, several people said that they have a special affinity with her.
Rosenworcel is someone I knew from her time on the committee as well as her work on FCC. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. POLITICO was told by a senior senator in Senate Commerce. I am inclined to vote for them.
Rosenworcel is a Democratic Commissioner since 2012, and was previously a top Senate aide for Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia's former Senate Commerce Chair. She has made it her top priority to connect students to broadband. While she was acting FCC chair for nine months, Rosenworcel avoided political crossfire and worked across the aisle to establish multibillion-dollar pandemic relief subsidy programmes.
Biden made Rosenworcel permanent chair of the FCC last Tuesday. This was the same day that he announced Sohn's nominations.
I would vote for her, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R.W.Va.), said about Rosenworcel.
We have a good rapport, said Capito who oversees the agency as a member of the Commerce and Appropriations committees, and cochairs the Senate Broadband Caucus. She has been responsive to my requests. She is clearly very knowledgeable about the policy.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R.Kan.), said he and Rosenworcel had worked well together. When asked if he would vote for her, he said that he wouldn't mind.
Even conservative Republicans can see her appeal.
Thune is unsure if he would vote for either nominee but he considered Rosenworcel a great choice for the job. Another senator from Commerce said that Rosenworcel's nomination was a good thing, considering she has always been open for visiting and because Bidens other FCC chair candidates had caused worry.
Democrats are ready to step on the gas
Democrats are confident about moving ahead with their nominees, who they celebrated in a series of statements as accomplished champions.
Both Rosenworcel, Sohn are boundary-smashing leaders, according to the White House. In its over 80-year history, the former is the first woman to be elected permanent chair of the FCC. Sohn, who was hailed as the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.), would be the FCC's first openly LGBTQ commissioner.
Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Senate Commerce Chair, has promised to speed up the nominations consideration by the year's end. She told POLITICO that she hopes to schedule a hearing for the nominations soon. Rosenworcel's past Senate vetting should make Rosenworcel's process much easier than those of Sohn.
The bipartisan infrastructure plans vision of spending billions on broadband Internet buildout and affordability subsidies calls for the full FCC to be seated. This is according to Senator Ben Ray Lujn, chairman of the Commerce panels Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband. He said that the bipartisan vote of the Senate to approve the infrastructure package in July, which was 69-30, should be interpreted as a sign of bipartisan urgency.
Lujn said that there is no reason why the Senate should not move in tandem the most recent White House batch for the FCC and Commerce Departments National Telecommunications and Information Administration nominations.
Lujn also noted that Rosenworcel's previous Senate confirmations in 2012, 2017 were by voice vote. He said that there shouldn't be any controversy and that he hoped we don't see one no vote for Rosenworcel.
Democrats may be able to install one or both of their nominees as recess appointment at the end, if necessary. This would allow the official to be seated for only a fraction of the five-year term, which could upset some senators.
Wicker wants to be patient and says that Wicker is not in any rush. He believes the delay of the administration in naming nominees is responsible for creating an illusion of urgency. He said that the committee should exercise diligence and adhere to the regular Senate procedure.
Wicker asked Wicker last week what the administration was doing. Wicker noted that it was nearly November. It only has five members.