The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday voted 14-12 along party lines to move forward on President Trump’s nomination of Nathan Simington to the FCC.
Wireless wasn’t the big topic of the day – it was pretty much all about Section 230 and President Trump’s desire to rewrite rules for social media. But there could be consequences for wireless as the nomination moves to the Senate floor.
Critics say Simington doesn’t have enough experience to be on the FCC. He previously served as senior counsel to Brightstar Corporation, the company founded by former Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, and later was hired as a senior adviser at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
In response to Trump’s executive order, the NTIA asked the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to clarify the provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934. In October, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his intent to move forward with a rulemaking to clarify its meaning.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the top Democrat on the committee, objected to Simington’s nomination and said Simington misrepresented his involvement in pushing the FCC to do the president’s bidding on Section 230. He actively and aggressively sought national media personalities to put pressure on the FCC to move forward on the administration’s Section 230 petition, she said.
After the vote, Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D-Connecticut), voiced his regrets that the committee was rushing to approve the nomination of Simington when his independence is “very much in dispute,” when it comes to Section 230.
During a Senate hearing last month, Simington described his role at the NTIA in drafting the Section 230 petition as a minor one, helping with editing and public relations. He said if confirmed, he would consult the FCC’s ethics counsel and abide by their recommendations as to recusing himself from a vote.
Trump has taken particular interest in Simington, tweeting about him on the day of the confirmation hearing. He nominated Simington after pulling the renomination of Commissioner Michael O’Rielly in August. That came shortly after O’Rielly gave a speech in which he voiced concerns about curtailing free speech through government action.
Blumenthal said Simington’s presence on the commission would result in a deadlock – there would be two Republicans and two Democrats until President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of a Democrat would get through the confirmation process – and suggested media companies might want that kind of deadlock.
But “we face right now a national emergency,” with both the pandemic and an economic crisis that requires the agency to be more active than ever, he said.
Blumenthal said he found Simington’s answers to some questions from both sides of the aisle to be inadequate and evasive.
Blumenthal said he asked him about several matters of bipartisan concern, including nationalized 5G networks, the C-band, Ligado and inter-agency fights, and “he failed to provide any meaningful response to these basic issues, even in writing.”
It would seem Simington was nominated for just one purpose: to support the president’s “indefensible assault on the First Amendment. It appears to be his sole qualification, his reason for replacing Commissioner O’Rielly,” Blumenthal said, adding that Simington also sought to enlist Fox News to “help get the FCC on board more quickly.”
During the confirmation hearing, Simington outlined four guiding principles that he would bring to the commission if confirmed: regulatory stability, universal connectivity, public safety and national security, and serving the public interest. He would support the commission’s ongoing commitment to light-touch regulation.
Blumenthal said he will continue to fight on the floor and do anything to hold up and oppose the nomination. In the past, nominations for Democrat and Republican seats on the commission have been paired. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, had to leave the commission for a time so that President Trump could appoint an accompanying Republican.