It was bipartisanship, of a sort, when the U.S. senate confirmed Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr as FCC commissioners yesterday. Senate democrats wanted to score some points and republicans were in a mood to let them do it – never underestimate the motivational power of an imminent summer vacation.
It was the product of complicated – and completely typical – Beltway horse trading. The bottom line, though, is that the Federal Communications Commission is back up to its full strength of five members with three republicans and two democrats – the privilege of the majority goes to the party that has a president in the white house.
The deal that was reached means that democrat Rosenworcel is confirmed to a full five year term and republican Carr serves out the final year of former chairman Tom Wheeler’s term before getting a shot at five years of his own. Current chairman Ajit Pai, on the other hand, has to wait until senators come back in September before he gets the blessing for another full term on the commission.
Democrats get two perks. First, when Pai’s nomination comes up, it’ll be a full roll call vote, so democrats can properly bash him first. Carr and Rosenworcel, by comparison, slid through in a quick and painless batch vote with a pile of pending nominees for various other federal jobs. Second, when Carr comes around again next summer, he’ll be paired up with democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn or whoever is nominated to replace her, should she not want, or get, a third term. That way, two-party symmetry can be maintained.
Having a full slate of commissioners probably won’t make much of a substantive difference. Carr’s policy outlook seems to be in line with Pai and Michael O’Rielly, his republican brothers, and whether it’s three to two or two to one, it’s still all the majority that’s needed. But Rosenworcel is an intellectual match for Pai, and has worked well with him in the past, sometimes on opposites sides and sometimes not. With her back on board, at least the debate will be improved.
This will be the third attempt at reappointing Rosenworcel to the commission. She was originally appointed by president Barack Obama in 2011, served her initial five year term with high marks from both sides of the aisle, and stayed until the end of last year, as the law allows when no renomination or replacement has been confirmed by the U.S. senate. Obama put her name forward twice: the first nomination expired in the senate, the second one was withdrawn when Trump took office.
Trump has a reputation for backing people with a track record of intelligent and competence, and Rosenworcel has that. Now her name is back on the table.
What’s not clear is whether Rosenworcel is being appointed to fill the open democratic seat or if she’s going to replace Mignon Clyburn, the only democrat on the commission, whose term expires at the end of the month (although, like Rosenworcel, she can stay on for a time, pending confirmation of a replacement). That detail should be cleaned up when the white house sends the formal paperwork to the senate.
The FCC is currently operating with only three commissioners – Clyburn, and two republicans, chairman Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly. If Rosenworcel is being appointed to the open democratic seat, then we can expect to see a third republican nomination sent to the senate soon – otherwise, the FCC would be in a two-to-two deadlock.
For the second time, Jessica Rosenworcel is out of the running for a seat on the Federal Communications Commission. Donald Trump withdrew her nomination, which was re-submitted to congress by Barack Obama in the final days of his administration. It doesn’t appear to be personal. Her name was on a long list of last minute appointments made by Obama to various jobs throughout the federal government that Trump reversed in a batch – a common move when a new president takes office.
Rosenworcel’s original term on the FCC expired in 2015, and Obama nominated her to a democratic seat on the commission again. However, republicans in the U.S. senate put her confirmation on hold, pending the results of the election in November. Again, that’s a common enough maneuver and had little practical effect at the time since federal law allowed her to remain on the commission through the end of last year, whether or not she was renominated and confirmed.
The game changed after Trump was elected. Once he took office, he would be able to fill any vacancies on the commission with up to three republicans. But if Rosenworcel was confirmed and Tom Wheeler decided to keep his seat, even though he’d lose the chairmanship, there would still be a majority of three democrats (Mignon Clyburn is the third). So republican senators refused to confirm her until Wheeler resigned. He didn’t, so her original nomination expired and she left the commission at the end of last year. Obama then renewed her nomination, but it was a purely symbolic move. And now it’s been withdrawn.
I’m not betting she’ll be renominated for a third time. Traditional practice is for congressional democrats to pick people to fill seats nominally reserved for their party, and their selection is then rubber stamped by the republican president (or vice versa). But it doesn’t have to be that way. Trump could pick a democrat he prefers, or he could chose someone with no party affiliation or who belongs to a third party. The only limit on his choice is that he can’t appoint a fourth republican.
It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but Trump isn’t the sort who throws bargaining chips away, no matter how small.
Even with three members of the Federal Communications Commission on stage together at CES in Las Vegas this afternoon, the big news is still coming out of Washington. Jessica Rosenworcel was renominated for another term on the FCC by president Obama yesterday, although it’s by no means certain that her U.S. senate confirmation will fare any better than it did the last time.
Rosenworcel’s first term as one of the designated democratic commissioners timed out at the end of 2016, despite the fact that she had been nominated for a second term in 2015. Senate republicans put her confirmation on ice until after the election. And it stayed there, even once the result was known, because a quick confirmation ran the risk of leaving a democratic majority on the FCC after Donald Trump takes office. Assuming chairman Tom Wheeler resigns after the inauguration, as he has promised to do, that problem has gone away.
“I publicly supported Commissioner Rosenworcel’s confirmation last Congress, and I continue to appreciate her service,” Thune said. “That said, now that we are just days away from Inauguration, I believe the president-elect deserves to be able to nominate the commissioners he wants to serve.
“I am open to the idea of confirming her later this year, as long as we preserve the new Republican majority on the commission in the process.”
Usually, democratic FCC commissioners are chosen by congressional democrats during republican administrations (and vice versa) and rubber stamped by the president. But there’s just the teeny weeniest possibility that Trump might do something unusual, like withdrawing Rosenworcel’s nomination and picking someone who is both a registered democrat and more in tune with his thinking. Or maybe more in tune with someone else’s thinking. The Verge reported that Trump is asking fellow mogul Rupert Murdoch for advice on who to name to the commission.
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.
Traditionally, the legislative process has overlooked the value of the unlicensed spectrum and favored licensed spectrum. This is not because of some rancorous partisan divide. It’s not because of some unsavory battle between industries. Instead, it simply reflects the way the non-partisan staff of the Congressional Budget Office assign value to spectrum when it is licensed and sold at auction. As a result, bills that direct the FCC to sell licensed spectrum get high grades, while legislation that creates more spectrum for Wi-Fi get low marks.
This accounting method is outdated. It fails to take into account the economic activity Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum create every year. But we can address it if every time we identify spectrum to auction for licensed use, we also identify spectrum for unlicensed use.
A spectrum auction is a good thing, generally. Properly run, it allows a fair market value to be placed on private, exclusive use of an otherwise common resource, and it encourages rapid and intensive use of that resource once it’s sold – a company that pays billions of dollars for a small slice will want to generate a return on that investment as quickly as possible.
On the other hand, congress has a hard time quantifying that value. Lawmakers grab onto wildly inflated estimates of what an auction will bring, and then spend it several times over before a single dollar is collected. The current double-auction aimed at converting TV spectrum to mobile broadband use is a perfect example.
Rosenworcel is correct in focusing on the value of spectrum decisions to the overall economy, rather than on shortsighted, and overly optimistic, estimates of immediate income to the federal treasury.
Jessica Rosenworcel is heading toward five more years as a member of the Federal Communications Commission. U.S. president Barack Obama “announced his intent to nominate” her to a full term on the commission. Once he actually does that, the next step will be confirmation by the U.S. senate.
Rosenworcel took her seat on the commission in 2012, filling one of the slots allocated to democrats. Previously, she had served as an FCC and senate staffer, and practiced communications law as a private attorney. All four of her colleagues issued the obligatory press releases congratulating her on the appointment, and she released her own, saying she was honored by the nomination and thanking everyone…
During my tenure at the agency it has been a tremendous privilege to work with my colleagues, the talented staff of the Commission, and the American people to develop policies that expand access to modern communications and the opportunities of the digital age. I look forward to the United States Senate considering my nomination and the continuing opportunity to serve.
The first time around, the senate voted unanimously to confirm her. Although her votes and views generally rest comfortably within the norms of her party, she’s not overtly partisan. A second unanimous vote might be too much to hope for, but it seems a safe bet that she’ll get strong support from both sides of the aisle.
The typical – and intentionally designed – division within the FCC is partisan. Democrats and republicans control two commission seats each, with the chairman’s job going to whichever party holds the White House. So it’s interesting when another kind of split develops.
I have real concerns about FCC Chairman Wheeler’s proposal on network neutrality—which is before the agency right now. To his credit, he has acknowledged that all options are on the table. This includes discussion about what a “commercially reasonable” Internet fast lane looks like. While I do not know now where this conversation will head on a substantive basis, I can tell you right now I have real concerns about process. His proposal has unleashed a torrent of public response. Tens of thousands of e-mails, hundreds of calls, commentary all across the Internet. We need to respect that input and we need time for that input.
Pai, who has openly opposed net neutrality regulation all along, was quick to agree. Wheeler’s response was exactly what you would expect from a veteran lobbyist: refuse to budge on the substance of the requests by keeping to schedule, while trying to make it look like he’s agreeing by meaninglessly extending the window for public comment.
Commissioners take up net neutrality at their meeting on Thursday.