Opposition Grows to GOP Nominee Who Could Deadlock FCC

A rush to seat President Donald Trump’s nominee on the Federal Communications Commission is generating complaints by Democrats that it could tie up the agency in partisan deadlock, unable to advance President-elect Joe Biden’s policies.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the appointment of Nathan Simington, who is opposed by Democrats. Simington was approved by the Commerce Committee on a party line vote.

Opposition Grows to GOP Nominee Who Could Deadlock FCC

Simington, a Commerce Department official, would replace a sitting FCC commissioner whose term is expiring and would initially be part of a 3-to-2 Republican majority. But Republican Chairman Ajit Pai has announced he will depart the agency next month, leaving four members.

That would leave an agency split 2-to-2 along party lines until the Senate confirms a choice from Biden. Though Biden will have the authority to appoint a chairman from among the remaining commissioners, the body would be unable to advance initiatives that don’t have bipartisan support.

The vote would break a Senate norm of advancing nominees in bipartisan pairs so each party has reason to move forward, said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat.

“The FCC should be truly an independent agency that serves the public interest,” Blumenthal said in a news conference Monday “Not a political football which is what Donald Trump is trying to make it.”

Some conservatives are backing Simington in order to leave the commission in the 2-2 deadlock. They oppose Democratic priorities such as increasing internet subsidies and restoring net neutrality rules that bar broadband providers from interfering with web traffic.

“Republicans should not underestimate the harm that a Democrat-led FCC could impose on the American economy during Biden’s first 100 days,” Grover Norquist, president of the policy group Americans for Tax Reform, said in a Dec. 1 letter to McConnell. Norquist said confirming Simington could “forestall billions in economic damage.”

Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has taken up the theme, telling Fox Business News on Dec. 2 that Simington’s arrival could “help forestall what really would be billions of dollars worth of economic damage.”

A Republican-controlled Senate would lack incentive to approve a Biden nominee, said Blair Levin, an analyst with New Street Research.

“The incentives to engage in the tactics of confrontation and polarization are far stronger than the incentives to compromise,” he wrote.

A tie would bring about delays in policy making, uncertainty around mergers and “significantly greater political gamesmanship. In short, we think the FCC could become a lot more like Congress,” Levin said.

The path to Democratic control would be eased if the party takes control of the Senate with victories in runoff elections in Georgia early next month.

Simington has won support from Charter Communications Inc. and Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA, a trade group representing carriers including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. Simington helped to write a proposal that’s before the FCC to increase social media companies’ exposure to greater legal liability.

David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Monday he had no “additional guidance or announcements on the FCC beyond the Simington nomination.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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