End of the line for an intelligent, independent FCC commissioner

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Happier days.

Jessica Rosenworcel won’t be coming back to the Federal Communications Commission next year. Not unless she’s renominated by either president Obama or Trump and the U.S. senate concurs. Or the senate takes the highly unusual step of returning to work during the holiday break. Senators wrapped up business for the year in the wee hours this morning, leaving a stack of unfinished business, including confirmation of a new term on the FCC for Rosenworcel.

It didn’t have to be this way. Rosenworcel occupied a seat on the FCC reserved for democrats and the republican majority in the senate would have been perfectly happy to confirm her. If.

If FCC chairman Tom Wheeler resigned, leaving the way clear for the incoming Trump administration to install a republican majority, in keeping with the usual rules of the Beltway game.

Wheeler refused to do that. Earlier this week, in an amazingly disingenuous declaration – even by Washington, D.C. standards – Wheeler reportedly said he was “willing to step down immediately if it would ensure Commissioner Rosenworcel’s confirmation”.

Where has he been? Rosenworcel’s confirmation has been tied to Wheeler’s resignation – standard operating procedure for an FCC chair during a change of administration – for the past year. It was an explicit condition the day before election day, and the day after election day it was baked into concrete. Wheeler’s egocentric refusal to bow to reality cost the FCC the services of a vanishingly rare species: a thinking commissioner.

As it stands, the FCC will begin the new year deadlocked with two republicans and two democrats. If – let’s face it, when – Wheeler throws it in, it’ll be a 2 to 1 republican majority and the way will be clear for two more commissioners, one republican and one democrat, to be nominated and confirmed. That democrat could be Jessica Rosenworcel, but in a new year with thousands of unemployed apparatchiks from the outgoing administration looking for a new gig, that’s not the way to bet.