The Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday voted to advance Nathan Simington’s FCC nomination to the floor in December’s lame-duck session. The GOP push could impede Democrat’s agenda early into next year, dividing the agency 2-2 once Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly exit.
The committee voice vote along party lines was 14-12. Committee Chair Roger Wicker (R-MS) had no comment on Simington’s suitability for the FCC commissioner position; he did on the other two nominees up for a vote.
Democrats on the committee oppose Simington, saying he was President Donald Trump’s choice because he intends to police social media. Ranking member Maria Cantwell of Washington said she opposes Simington because he’s “doing the White House’s bidding” in that regard.
At least one Democratic leader, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said he would carry the fight to the floor, noting, “What’s at stake here is the independence of the FCC.” Simington “has worked on an issue that will come before the FCC. His version is very much in dispute. I fear the Commission will be deadlocked.”
Blumenthal emphasized that some “may want the FCC to be neutralized, but with the pandemic, this agency needs to be more active than ever” for consumers and their telecommunications. He found Simington’s answers to questions by both sides of the aisle “to be inadequate and evasive.”
Referring to news reports that Simington tried to help advance President Trump’s agenda to reign in social media, Blumenthal said Simington “failed to disclose” this to lawmakers. “The FCC and NTIA [where Simington is a senior advisor] simply cannot be permitted to be an instrument of political bullying,” said the Senator. “This committee must take this threat seriously.”
Both Blumenthal and Cantwell said Simington lacks the qualifications for the FCC job and the Senate should hold his nomination. They prefer the committee go the traditional route of nominating and moving forward FCC Commissioner nominees in pairs, including a member of each major party.
President Trump chose Simington to replace FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for questioning Trump’s desire to have the agency curb social media actions, according to news accounts. During Simington’s nomination hearing, he said he worked on NTIA’s petition concerning social media in a small way, Inside Towers reported. O’Rielly’s nomination was pulled by Trump and he must now leave the agency before the new Congress is installed.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief