If Simington is approved by the full Senate, Republicans and Democrats each would have two seats on the FCC, setting up a deadlock in the early days of Joe Biden’s administration. Democrats will have a majority once whoever Biden nominates to fill the fifth seat is confirmed, a process that has in past years taken months.
The committee voted 14-12 along party lines to confirm Simington. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the committee, objected to his nomination, in part because “real questions have been raised about Mr. Simington’s candor with the committee during this confirmation process.” She cited emails which she said misrepresented his involvement in efforts to “do the president’s bidding on Section 230.”
Politico reported that Simington, as an adviser at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, sought out Fox News and its personality Laura Ingraham to engage in the fight against Section 230, the law that shields tech platforms from liability for how they moderate third-party content. Simington insisted that he had a “minimal role” in the Trump administration’s petition to the FCC to revise the law in a way that would open up platforms like Facebook and Twitter to litigation over how they handle to content that users place on their sites.
On Wednesday, Trump threatened to veto the latest defense spending bill unless it included a repeal of Section 230.
Trump has been railing against tech platforms for years for alleged bias against conservatives, but he issued an executive order targeting Section 230 earlier this year, after Twitter started placing fact-checking labels on some of his tweets.
Simington is seeking a spot on the FCC that originally was to be filled by Michael O’Rielly, a Republican who has been on the commission since 2013. The Senate Commerce Committee approved O’Rielly for another term in July, but the White House withdrew the nomination after he spoke skeptically about the prospect of the FCC revising Section 230.