The US Senate today approved a new five-year term for Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. Today’s vote ensured that Rosenworcel won’t have to leave the commission at the end of the year. But the FCC is still deadlocked at 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans—and the GOP is mounting a serious challenge against Gigi Sohn, the Biden nominee who would give Democrats a 3-2 majority.
Today’s vote on Rosenworcel was 68-31, with Democrats and some Republicans approving the renomination. We’ll update this story with more specifics on today’s Senate vote later, but you can see the results of last night’s cloture vote to end debate on the renomination here.
“It’s the honor of my lifetime to lead the FCC and serve as the first permanent female Chair,” Rosenworcel wrote on Twitter after the vote. “Thank you to the President and Senate for entrusting me with this responsibility. There’s work to do to make sure modern communications reach everyone, everywhere. Now let’s get to it.”
Biden initially designated Rosenworcel as acting chairwoman but removed the “acting” part of that title in October. The president can designate any commissioner as chair, so today’s Senate vote was solely on the question of whether Rosenworcel should get a new term as commissioner.
Rosenworcel’s previous term expired in mid-2020. US law lets commissioners on lapsed terms stay until “the expiration of the session of Congress that begins after the expiration of the fixed term,” which allowed her to stay until the beginning of January 2022 with or without a new term. Rosenworcel’s new five-year term is retroactive to July 1, 2020.
Rosenworcel’s reconfirmation was never expected to face a serious challenge. Still, US Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he opposed the chairwoman’s new term because Rosenworcel wants to reinstate net neutrality rules.
Sohn faces Republican resistance
Sohn faces a much tougher path to confirmation. At her nomination hearing last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other Republicans blasted her for tweets in which she criticized Fox News, with the GOP senators arguing that she would try to stifle conservative viewpoints. However, conservative news networks Newsmax and One America News Network supported Sohn’s nomination and praised her longtime commitment to free speech.
Sohn, a longtime consumer advocate, told Cruz, “Look at the conservative cable channels that I worked with for years to get them carriage on cable systems when those systems would not carry them. I have long worked with organizations and companies with whom I vigorously disagree on their point of view—fervent Republicans, fervent supporters of the previous president—and I worked with them to get their views online. I believe that I have been characterized very unfairly as being anti-conservative speech. I think my record says otherwise.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said, “I will do everything in my power to convince colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject this extreme nominee.” Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) have both threatened to put holds on Sohn’s nomination.
Tillis last week urged Biden to pull Sohn’s nomination, stating that he is “especially disturbed by her history as an anti-copyright activist” who “has consistently worked against commonsense measures that would crack down on illegal piracy.” Tillis pointed to Sohn’s former position as a board member at Locast, a nonprofit online TV service that shut down after losing a court case launched by major broadcast networks.
At her nomination hearing, Sohn told senators that her experience at Locast and the networks’ lawsuit against the nonprofit “wouldn’t impair my decisions as a policymaker.” Sohn also said, “I’ve been working very closely with the Office of Government Ethics on an ethics agreement which I’ve signed, and if there’s any question about my bias, I will work with them to determine whether I need to not participate in a proceeding. But I do not believe I am biased.”