It is beginning to look like the 2-2 deadlock that has marked the Federal Communications Commission for the past two years is not about to come to an end in the near-term, even though Democrats now have an extra vote in the Senate to confirm Gigi Sohn. As the Senate returns from a two-week recess, there is a growing expectation that Sohn’s nomination will need to go through a full confirmation process once again – including a third hearing in front of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Washington insiders say Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is expected to go along with Republican lawmakers for a new hearing. It would be an unprecedented third time before the Committee for an FCC nominee, and it reinforces the GOP’s firm opposition against Sohn’s nomination. Her agreement to recuse herself from any decisions regarding retransmission consent for local television stations for three years was enough to secure the backing of the National Association of Broadcasters, but several Senate Republicans think her previous work for the now-closed Locast streaming TV service would continue to cause an appearance of a conflict of interest. They also note that the agreement is voluntary, meaning Sohn could rescind her decision to remain on the sidelines at any time.
Sohn supporters have become increasingly frustrated with the foot-dragging.
“We’ve waited two long years. The Senate needs to stop letting cynical political maneuvers from obstructionist lawmakers and industry-aligned lobbyists further delay the crucial work of the FCC,” said Free Press Campaign Director Heather Franklin. She says the lack of a Democratic majority has prevented the FCC from taking steps to increase media diversity.
“We’re now marking two years without a fully functional Federal Communications Commission. Never before has the American public had to wait so long for an FCC confirmation,” Franklin said. “This senseless delay has been driven by a bigoted, vicious and fact-free smear campaign coordinated by telephone, cable and broadcast industry lobbyists and right-wing operatives. The Senate must end this senseless charade and confirm Sohn. She’s an incredibly well-qualified candidate.”
But Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) calls Sohn “one of the most radical and ethically compromised nominees” put up for an FCC chair and says the Commerce Committee “has a duty to conduct a full and thorough vetting process of her nomination, including receipt of updated paperwork, meetings with Senators and staff, and a new public hearing.” Cruz is now the Ranking Republican on the Committee, so it is expected that Cantwell will agree to a hearing rather than pick a fight that could derail their work during the next two years.
If a hearing is held, Communications Daily says it may not be until mid-February to early-March after the Commerce Committee holds is organizational meeting.
President Biden this month moved to renominate Sohn to the FCC vacancy. Biden first nominated Sohn to serve on the FCC in October 2021. The choice was celebrated among the progressive wing of his party – Sohn has been outspoken on a number of issues, including media ownership, and if confirmed she would become the first LGBTQ commissioner. Sohn’s past work as a public advocate has made her a favorite among progressives, who credit her with helping draft the net neutrality rules while working as a senior advisor to former Chair Tom Wheeler. But her comments over the years that were critical of conservative media outlets left her without any support among Republican lawmakers who would confirm her.
A handful of moderate Democrats shied away from saying whether they would vote to confirm Sohn during the last Congress and the lame duck session also failed to see Sohn’s nomination brought up.
If confirmed, Sohn would have a five-year term through June 30, 2026, filling a seat vacated by former FCC Chair Ajit Pai in January 2021.