The US Senate this week approved a new five-year term for Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, making her the first permanent FCC chair in agency history. Technically the first female chair was Mignon Clyburn, who temporarily served as interim chair before Tom Wheeler was appointed boss back in 2013. Rosenworcel’s term was set to expire at the end of the year, raising some concerns that her re-nomination would stall, leaving the GOP with a 2-1 FCC majority at Biden’s FCC.
While that scenario was avoided, Rosenworcel’s appointment still leaves the agency gridlocked at 2-2 commissioners, and incapable of having a voting majority on any policy issue of substance. If you recall this was quite by design; the GOP rushed to appoint Trump ally Nathan Simington to the commission late last year in a quick appointment process that took less than 30 days. This was at the behest of the telecom and media sectors, which very much don’t want the Biden FCC rolling back any of the Trump-era deregulatory favors, whether that’s net neutrality or media consolidation rules.
To that end, telecom giants like AT&T, hand in hand with Rupert Murdoch, are now focused on blocking Biden’s other FCC pick, Gigi Sohn, from being appointed to the FCC so Rosenworcel can’t actually use her Democratic majority. That has involved pushing the false claim through trusted news outlets that Sohn wants to “censor conservatives,” despite absolutely zero evidence that’s actually true.
This being the post-truth era (especially in the GOP), that doesn’t seem to matter. Saule Omarova, a Cornell Law School professor and Biden’s pick for comptroller of the currency, backed out of her nomination this week because the banking industry was worried she might actually hold them lightly accountability for something. The banking industry in turn got the GOP to run a campaign accusing Omarova of being a “communist” because she was born in the Soviet Union:
“Some lobbyists, including the incoming chairman of a group representing community bankers and the chief executive of another group that focuses on big banks, also shared a Wall Street Journal editorial suggesting that Ms. Omarova’s Soviet childhood meant that she could not be trusted.”
The U.S. press being generally feckless, countless outlets (especially access-obsessed beltway outlets like Politico) spilled ample ink over countless paragraphs stenographing false GOP claims, often without bothering to inform readership they weren’t actually true.
Telecom giants like AT&T, hand in hand with Rupert Murdoch, are now attempting the same thing with Sohn because they’re terrified of any regulator that might actually hold them accountable for anticompetitive behavior. Both telecom and media giants were spooked by the appointment of Lina Khan to the FTC, and Biden’s 9 month delay in announcing his FCC picks gave them ample time to generate farmed opposition to Sohn. Sohn can still be appointed without GOP support, but not if telecom can pressure swing voters like Manchin and Sinema into balking at the pick.
That’s a much steeper hill to climb, given Sinema, despite her tendency to throw wrenches in the cogs of Biden’s Congressional agenda, has yet to oppose a major nomination. AT&T and Rupert Murdoch know this, but likely want to just delay Sohn’s appointment, narrowing the window a Democratic FCC majority can implement any real reform. From the dismantling of FCC consumer protection oversight to the elimination of longstanding (and traditionally bipartisan) media consolidation rules, there were an endless parade of favors doled out to both companies during the Trump era they’d very much like to hold on to for as long as possible, if not permanently.
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