By: Katie McAuliffe
The Federal Communications Commission has been without a permanent Chair or a nomination for a fifth commissioner 250 days into Biden’s presidency. With limited days left in this session of Congress, the possibility of republican commissioners controlling the FCC during a democrat presidency becomes increasingly likely.
How did we get here? Knowing that FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai would follow tradition and step down from the agency in January as the Biden administration took over, Senate Republicans quickly confirmed Nathan Simington to the Commission in December to ensure a Commission balanced by 2 democrats and 2 republicans until President Biden named a Chair and filled the vacant seat. In a surprising turn of events, democrats have not been so quick to make their pick.
As it stands now, the FCC could become GOP controlled 2-1 by the beginning of next year. FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel is serving in a position that expires January 3rd, 2022. It is unlikely she stays on without being named permanent Chair, even thought twice democratic senators have sent letter to the Administration asking for her nomination as Chair. With limited legislative days left and a 50-50 Senate even a nomination tomorrow would not likely fill the FCC vacancies before the end of Acting Chair Rosenworcel’s term. The FCC would then have two Republicans Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington and leaving Geoffrey Starks as the loan democrat. Biden would need two Senate vetted and then approved nominees before the Commission could carry out his agenda.
Only once in the last 40 years has a president taken more than 200 days to have their selections confirmed, and that means all nominations happened much sooner. But President Biden is 250 days in without a nomination, and it is more than likely he will need two candidates for the senate confirmation process. It is unprecedented for a President to leave this vital agency that regulates industries underpinning at least one-sixth of the economy with vacancies and uncertainty. With Biden calling for re-imposing net neutrality rules, it’s not clear that it is even a priority any more. Of course, we believe the Title II version of net neutrality rules were never needed, and the scare tactics surrounding the net neutrality proved false.
Fortunately, under both Chairman Pai and Acting Chair Rosenworcel, FCC actions have been predominately bipartisan in nature. Having a 2-2 Commission for this long has demonstrated that the FCC can still carry out important business without pursing disruptive partisan agendas. In the meantime, it looks like republicans may get a sweet deal from Biden’s inaction.