As Republicans line up in opposition to a controversial but long-awaited Federal Communications Commission nominee from President Joe Biden, it appears as though the outcome could be decided by moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
“At stake are Democrats’ hopes for a majority on the five-member FCC, which has been mired in a 2-2 partisan split for all of Biden’s term,” Politico reported Monday. “That, in turn, will determine whether the agency can get to work on progressives’ telecom priorities, including a revival of the agency’s Obama-era net neutrality rules.”
If the Senate does not act by year’s end, Republicans will wind up with a 2-1 majority on the panel come January, even if Democrats “nominally remain in charge” of government, Politico noted.
But the impasse marks another of many obstacles Democrats with slim majorities in both congressional chambers have faced since Biden was inaugurated to go along with the party’s inability to pass major portions of the president’s economic agenda, including massive social and climate spending along with an infrastructure bill that already has broad bipartisan support.
Biden’s inaction in naming two Democratic selections to the FCC is historic; Trump named his pick of Ajit Pai to lead the influential committee three days after he was inaugurated and the GOP-led panel was rolling back Net neutrality rules by December 2017. Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter also took months to name their selections, but Biden has waited longer.
Last week, however, he nominated Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to a new five-year term as well as net neutrality activist Gigi Sohn to the commission’s open seat. Her term ran out in June 2020 which means she must depart at the end of this year unless her term is renewed.
While Republicans have said they can tolerate Rosenworcel, party leaders have balked at supporting Sohn and the perception she will lean heavily on new regulations. Also, GOP leaders don’t want to allow Democrats to simply rush through both confirmations.
“Sohn, obviously, her views are going to be very far apart from where mine are on all the issues,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota told Politico.
“She’s very left, she’s going to be a heavy hand in regulation, very heavy in net neutrality,” he said, adding: “She’s going to be very much, I think, Big Government stepping on the scales.”
That said, Democrats could manage to ram through Sohn’s nomination but that relies on unified support — which means Sinema and Manchin will have to be on board.
“There’s no good excuse” for not having nominated anyone until now, Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, told Politico last month. “I’m absolutely fearful that what the administration is setting up is a 2-1 Republican majority FCC under a Democratic administration. That is unacceptable.”
“We’re in a hurry,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) noted in the agreement.
Neither spokesperson for Sinema or Manchin would comment on Sohn’s nomination, Politico noted.
Republicans have long opposed Net neutrality because they fear the FCC would be able to regulate — as in limit — prices broadband providers can charge, as well as impose other overly restrictive mandates that would actually harm the industry and consumers.
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