Trump FCC Pick Confirmed Over Democrats’ Objection

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Federal Communications Commission, potentially setting up a partisan deadlock that could leave the agency unable to advance President-elect Joe Biden’s policies.

Nathan Simington, 41, a Commerce Department official, won approval by a party-line vote of 49-46 over the opposition of Democrats.

Simington will replace Michael O’Rielly, a Republican FCC commissioner whose nomination was withdrawn after he criticized Trump’s plan to weaken legal protections for social media companies. Simington’s term is to run until July 2024.

He will initially be part of a 3-to-2 Republican majority. But Republican Chairman Ajit Pai has announced he will depart the agency next month as Biden takes office, leaving four members.

That would produce a 2-to-2 split 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.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, urged lawmakers to reject Simington. Normally nominees advance in bipartisan pairs to ensure balance, but in this case “the Republican majority is rushing to approve a single Republican nominee,” Schumer said.

Schumer called Simington “far from uncontroversial” and cited the nominee’s support of Trump’s efforts to weaken social media’s legal shield against liability for curating posted remarks.

“What we will have at the FCC now is potential gridlock,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat. He said Biden promised to increase access to the internet, reinstate net neutrality rules that limit broadband providers, and renew a commitment to consumer protection.

“This nomination threatens all those goals for a new administration,” Blumenthal said.

Simington didn’t respond to messages seeking comment left at his office.

Some conservatives back Simington in order to ensure deadlock. They oppose Democratic priorities such as increasing internet subsidies and restoring net neutrality rules that bar broadband providers from interfering with web traffic.

Simington, a lawyer, had no previous government experience before June when he became a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a Commerce Department arm that advises the president on communications.

Before that, he served as senior corporate counsel for Brightstar Corp., a wireless device services, logistics and insurance company, according to his resume as provided to the Senate.

Simington told lawmakers at his Dec. 2 confirmation hearing that he prizes “regulatory stability” and said the FCC must be “thoughtful about potential chilling effects” from “intrusive, disruptive and burdensome” regulations.

His nomination was supported by Charter Communications Inc. and CTIA, a trade group representing carriers including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

“He has shown a keen recognition of the value of competition and private investment in securing U.S. leadership in broadband,” Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA, said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, a trade group representing cable companies including large U.S. provider Comcast Corp., congratulated Simington.

“We look forward to working with him and his colleagues to find creative solutions that will promote private sector investment and innovation rather than returning to obsolete regulatory models of the past that would only stifle broadband deployment,” Michael Powell, NCTA’s president, said in a statement.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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