WASHINGTON — Tom Wheeler is one step closer to chairing the Federal Communications Commission, as his nomination cleared the Senate Commerce Committee last week — but not without some drama.
One single, unhappy Republican senator threatened to delay the former National Cable & Telecommunications Association president’s appointment — though that lawmaker, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), said he was speaking for many others.
Wheeler was approved by voice vote after committee Republicans, led by ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.), first suggested it would be better to hold off until the White House had submitted a Republican nominee for Robert McDowell’s vacated FCC seat.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), the chairman, would have none of it, though, saying there would be no “pairing” in his committee.
In recent years, nominees — such as Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican FCC member Ajit Pai — have been paired by custom for votes both in the committee and full Senate, but the practice is not a rule. Rockefeller last week said it was time to vote on Wheeler, whose confirmation hearing was June 18.
Wheeler’s nomination was one of nine subject to vote; the other eight were made en masse. Wheeler was voted on independently to allow Cruz to vote no and issue his warning.
Cruz, whose name has been floated as a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, had suggested at Wheeler’s hearing that any FCC push to identify the funders of political ads on-air could derail the nomination. That was tried in the DISCLOSE Act, which failed due to Republican opposition.
It takes just one senator to block a nomination. Two years ago, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Neb.) held up the Rosenworcel and Pai appointments because of his concerns over how the FCC had handled wireless Internet firm LightSquared.
Cruz echoed his threat at last week’s hearing, saying Wheeler still hadn’t provided a satisfactory answer. At his confirmation hearing, Wheeler said he understood the passions over the issue, but need to study it more.
Apparently his subsequent answers were no more pleasing to Cruz’s ears. Cruz did not use the H word (“hold”), but said: “If he continues to refuse to answer that question, I may well support using procedural means to delay this nomination until he answers the very reasonable question that has been posed.”
And while he did not vote no, another potential presidential hopeful, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), suggested that Wheeler expand on his hearing answer about FCC indecency enforcement before a full Senate vote.
Wheeler said at the time that he had some concerns about content, but that the courts “have been pretty specific and restrictive.” He suggested he could use the FCC chair’s bully pulpit to appeal to programmers’ better instincts.
Thune last week said he expected the White House would soon submit the GOP nominee, likely Michael O’Rielly, a top staffer with minority whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).
ROCKEFELLER WON’T WAIT
WASHINGTON — Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) is squarely behind nominee Tom Wheeler — a point he made, well, pointedly, last week, when Republicans sought to delay the ultimately successful committee vote to approve his nomination.
The following is from Rockefeller’s opening statement at the hearing: “Unfortunately, the FCC has been without a chairman for more than two months now [technically, yes, but there is an acting chairwoman, Mignon Clyburn], even though this committee considered Tom Wheeler’s nomination to be chairman more than a month ago. I said this at his nomination hearing, and I will say it again: Tom Wheeler is well-qualified to be FCC chairman, with a distinguished career in the communications industry.”
— John Eggerton
FCC nominee Tom Wheeler may have to provide more input on the agency’s authority over political ad disclosures.