The Federal Communications Commission moved closer to having a full complement of five commissioners when the White House last week said it intended to renominate Republican Robert McDowell to a new five-year term.
Technically, nominations for the agency are the president's to make, but ever since then-President Clinton deferred to GOP leadership for names to fill the party's seats, the custom is that top Senate Republicans get to make the call.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which will hold the nomination hearing for McDowell, said she was looking forward to McDowell's confirmation.
“Robert McDowell will provide continuity for many important issues on the FCC, including the upcoming digital television transition,” she said. “I look forward to working with [committee] chairman Rockefeller to ensure that he receives a fair nomination hearing and is confirmed.”
A confirmation hearing on some or all of the FCC picks could take place within the next couple of weeks.
McDowell is said to have been the choice of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader, while Hutchison is backing former Commerce Department official Meredith Attwell Baker.
If the Republicans have settled on the other GOP seat, that could pave the way for the scheduling of nomination hearings for two Democrats tapped by President Obama: chairman-designate Julius Genachowski and Mignon Clyburn, a South Carolina utility commissioner.
Republican leaders were widely thought to be intent on picking the Republicans before moving on the Democratic choices.
The FCC is currently being headed by acting chairman Michael Copps, who has been teeing up items for his successor.
Meanwhile, until a new FCC Democrat is chosen, commissioner Jonathan Adelstein can't leave to head the Agricultural Department's Rural Utilities Service. His nomination hasn't been confirmed by the Senate, either, but even if it were, his exit would leave only two commissioners and FCC rules require at least three for a vote on any item.
Before joining the FCC to fill ex-chairman Michael Powell's unexpired term in May 2006, McDowell was senior vice president and assistant general at COMPTEL, which represents competitive facilities-based telecommunications companies. On the commission, McDowell has been a fan of the free market and a voice cautioning that some FCC decisions may have trouble passing muster in the courts.
In announcing its intention to renominate McDowell, the White House pointed to broadband issues and advancement of unlicensed wireless devices in the TV spectrum space among his credits.