The Senate Commerce Committee moved the nominations of Gigi Sohn to the FCC and Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC, but it came in a tie vote that sets up a more complicated path to their ultimate confirmations.
The 14-14 vote along party lines for each nomination means that the committee will “report” the tie to the Senate floor.
That means more legislative maneuvering by Democrats to clear each nominee, as the Senate can move to “discharge” the nomination to get it to the floor for a vote. That’s still possible, as Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 Senate, and there is pressure on party leaders to get the nominations through so that Democrats will secure a majority at each agency.
The nominations were delayed last month after Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) suffered a stroke, costing Democrats the votes they needed to keep the Sohn and Bedoya nominations alive.
But on Thursday, Lujan returned to a standing ovation.
“It’s an absolutely honor to be back,” he said.
Senator Ben Ray Luján receives a standing ovation upon his return to the Senate.
.@SenatorCantwell: "Senator Luján, so good to see you."@SenatorLujan: "It's an absolute honor to be back!" pic.twitter.com/3q2rYR1eIk
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 3, 2022
There also was some question as to how another Democrat on the committee, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), would vote, but she ultimately gave her approval to both nominations.
At stake for each agency is the ability to act on more controversial items like net neutrality at the FCC and new competition and merger regulations at the FTC. The latter agency is weighing Amazon’s proposed acquisition of MGM and needs a majority to mount a legal challenge, according to a report in The Information.
At the hearing, the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), said that he opposed Sohn’s nomination because of the “appearance” of conflicts of interest were to she be seated at the FCC. Sohn had been on the board of Locast, a non-profit service that provided streams of broadcast signals. But it suspended operations after broadcast networks sued for copyright infringement and a federal judge ruled in their favor.
Sohn pledged that she would recuse herself from issues related to retransmission consent and broadcast copyright, but Wicker said that it “only increases questions for further recusal.”
If confirmed, Sohn would be the first openly LGBTQ FCC commissioner, but her past work as a media public interest advocate often put her at odds with industry groups. The Directors Guild of America urged the Senate to reject her confirmation, citing her past stances on copyright. She also became a target on the right, with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and other commentators as well as The Wall Street Journal editorial page weighing in against her. Fox News and the Journal are owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has opposed some of Sohn’s views on issues of media consolidation.
In one of two confirmation hearings in February, Sohn said that she had been subjected to “unrelenting, unfair, and outright false criticism and scrutiny,” rare for an FCC nominee. Indeed, later than evening, on a segment about her Jesse Watters’ Fox News show, the chyron read “Biden picks Fox hater to regulate Fox.” But that is misleading. As the FCC notes on its website, “the agency is prohibited by law from engaging in censorship or infringing on First Amendment rights of the press.” The agency also has limited authority over cable networks like Fox News.
“I think there are certain very large companies that would like the FCC continue to be deadlocked. It’s no secret,” Sohn said.
Wicker said that he opposed Bedoya’s nomination because of his “divisive views.” Bedoya became a flashpoint in part because of past tweets, including one in 2021 in which he labeled Immigration and Customs Enforcement as an “out of control domestic surveillance agency.” Bedoya, who has been Georgetown Law professors focused on issues of privacy, apologized during his confirmation hearing while pledging to be unbiased.
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