FCC's Wheeler Will Step Down If Rosenworcel Gets Vote

An FCC spokesperson confirmed reports that chairman Tom Wheeler has said he would be willing to exit the commission if it meant the Senate would vote to confirm Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was unanimously referred to the full Senate for reconfirmation by the Senate Commerce Committee exactly one year ago (Dec. 9, 2015).

The spokesperson said Wheeler had told Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he would be "willing to step down immediately if it would ensure Rosenworcel’s confirmation."

But that may not be good enough for Republicans who want the FCC to have a Republican majority ASAP and likely would want Wheeler's resignation letter too.

Related: Groups Want FCC's Rosenworcel Out, Then Back In

If Rosenworcel does not get a vote in the lame duck session, she has to exit when the new Congress is seated in early January. That would mean a 2-2 commission until Wheeler's exit, presumably by Jan. 20, then a 2-1 majority until a new Democrat and Republican could be added.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have to schedule that vote, which has so far been held hostage to a general Republican reluctance to vote on nominations. Reid has complained that McConnell promised Rosenworcel would get a vote back when Democrats agreed to vote on Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly without a Democrat to pair with him—traditionally they are voted in pairs.

Related: Rosenworcel FCC Renomination Saga Continues

McConnell's office had not returned a call at press time about whether he would, indeed, schedule such a vote given Wheeler's pledge.

An FCC source on background said that earlier this week the chairman had committed to step down the same day if it would give Rosenworcel a vote, an assurance that was made after it was understood that was part of a deal to get McConnell to schedule that vote.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.