The U.S. Senate voted 49-46 on Tuesday to confirm Nathan Simington to replace Michael O’Rielly on the FCC. Simington’s term is for five years.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and fellow Republican Brendan Carr immediately issued congratulatory statements, as did the heads of groups that will continue working closely with the FCC for the next five years. On the flip side, Democrats charged that the nomination was rammed through, designed to do President Trump’s bidding.
Pai said he looks forward to welcoming Simington to the commission. “Nathan was raised in a rural community, and his confirmation ensures that this important perspective will continue to be represented on the Commission for years to come as the FCC continues its work on bridging the digital divide,” Pai said. “And with his experience at NTIA and in the private sector, Nathan is well-positioned to hit the ground running. I wish him all the best going forward.”
Carr said Simington will bring a wealth of private and public sector experience to the commission, including having served most recently as senior advisor in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). “Once he is sworn in, I look forward to working together with him and my other colleagues on the Commission on common sense policies that will advance the public interest,” Carr stated.
“CTIA and the wireless industry congratulate Nathan Simington on his confirmation by the Senate as Commissioner to the FCC. He has shown a keen recognition of the value of competition and private investment in securing U.S. leadership in broadband, a commitment to universal connectivity and a focus on ensuring our communications networks remain secure,” said CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker in a statement. “This is a critical time as we continue to build our 5G economy, and we look forward to working with him to ensure America continues to lead the world in wireless.”
Before the vote, however, Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D-Connecticut), urged his colleagues to vote against the nomination, which he said was being rammed though. He pointed out that traditionally when a new administration comes in, nominations for the FCC are paired, with one person from each political party being considered at the same time. But President Trump pushed the nomination, largely because of his beefs with social media giants Twitter and Facebook.
Blumenthal said O’Rielly’s renomination was moving ahead; the Commerce Committee even held a vote for him in July. But after the social media giants started labeling Trump’s tweets about voting and Covid-19, the president issued an executive order to retaliate against them. The senator said the president in effect demanded that the FCC revise Section 230 of the Communications Act to punish those companies for fact checking his messages. O’Rielly did not show support for reviewing Section 230 at the FCC, and that’s when his renomination was pulled.
Simington tried to pressure the FCC to cave into the White House on Section 230, and “it is an unprecedented assault on the integrity and independence of the FCC,” Blumenthal said. “He is unprepared and unqualified.”
The majority of the FCC usually matches the party in office, and with Simington being approved, there will be a period of time where there’s gridlock at the commission, with two Republicans and two Democrats. Giant telecom and media companies may prefer the agency be deadlocked, Blumenthal noted.
In a report for investors earlier this week, New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin observed that with no Republicans planning to vote against Simington, the odds favored his confirmation this week. Another telling sign: Chairman Pai announced that he will leave the commission on January 20, something he probably would not have done if there wasn’t a deal cut to confirm Simington.