A divided Senate Commerce Committee finally voted Thursday (Mar. 3) along party lines to send the nomination of Gigi Sohn to the full Senate for a vote, a big step toward her ultimate confirmation. The vote was 14–14, which means the nominee can get a floor vote, but with no favorable or unfavorable recommendation.
The FCC has been at a 2–2 political tie for well over a year, so a tied committee vote to potentially break the commission tie was appropriate.
Sohn would be the fifth commissioner, giving the Biden Administration the majority it needs to tackle some tough issues, including network neutrality and media ownership/equity.
Also reported in a partisan vote was a fifth Federal Trade Commission member, Alvaro M. Bedoya. The vote on Bedoya was also 14–14.
Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said Sohn needed to be seated, in part because of the importance of the administration’s broadband priorities. Cantwell thanked all her colleagues for being there, which may have been a reference to reports that Republicans had considered not showing up to deny a quorum, and thus a vote, on Sohn.
Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he could not vote for Sohn or Bedoya. He said he appreciated Sohn’s responsiveness, but said she was not the right choice to fill the FCC vacancy because she would continue to have an appearance of a conflict of interest.
Sohn was nominated last year but had to be renominated in January after the committee Democrats were unable to secure enough votes, then her first vote had to be postponed after one of the committee Democrats — Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico — suffered a stroke.
Luján got a lengthy standing ovation when he entered the chamber for the meeting.
Republicans have pushed back on her nomination over past criticism of Fox News and her relationship to Locast, the shuttered streaming service that was found by a court not to be entitled under a copyright carveout from streaming TV station signals without having to ask permission or pay for the transmissions.
But her backers have suggested that ISPs were pushing back because they did not want the FCC to reinstate net neutrality rules, and Republicans were pushing back generally because they wanted to stall the Biden regulatory agenda until the Midterms.
If the Republicans took over the Senate and House, they could nullify any FCC attempt to reinstate the rules, as they did to an FCC privacy regulatory regime under then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Wicker took issue with Cantwell’s phrasing of the nomination as being reported to the floor, saying only that the tie vote was being reported to the floor. Though Cantwell first said she thought that was the proper wording, she agreed that that technically constituted reporting a tie vote to the floor.
According to the Congressional Research Service, “a Senate majority can vote to discharge a committee from consideration of a matter, including a nomination, if it is not reported because of a tie vote in committee.”
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