With time running out in the lame-duck session of Congress, there is still no scheduled vote on advancing Gigi Sohn's nomination to the Federal Communications Commission.
At deadline, her appointment was not listed among the 104 pending nominations on the Senate’s executive calendar, with the last action noted as “failed to report her favorably” out of committee, according to congress.gov.
President Joe Biden submitted the nomination October 28, 2021.
Sohn’s nomination was stalled in the Senate Commerce Committee on a tie vote in March, where it has remained without getting the full discharge vote that would allow the entire Senate to vote on filling the fifth seat on the FCC.
Without that vote, the Democrats don’t have a majority and can’t tackle big-ticket issues like network neutrality rules, broadcast regulation or changes to the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which do not have bipartisan support.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) controls the calendar and supports Sohn, but would not schedule a vote unless he was sure he had enough support to get her across the finish line in what has been an almost-two-year effort to seat a fifth Democrat.
Republicans have not been willing to vote for her, and the general wisdom is that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and now-independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have not been locks for a yes vote.
Manchin’s reluctance has been attributed to the fact that Sohn has been painted by her opponents as critical of rural broadband buildout — despite support from rural broadband backers who have said that “there is no doubt that Sohn is dedicated to ensuring that everyone in rural America is connected.” Sinema's reluctance is attributed to an effort by net neutrality backers to call out the senator for her reluctance to get on board with the Save the Internet Act back in 2021.
Sinema might have needed some extra persuading after progressive Democrats hammered her — including paying for a billboard in her home state branding her “corrupt” — during the net neutrality debate for not voting to repeal the 2017 FCC decision to eliminate the net neutrality rules. Those were rules that Sohn stumped for as an adviser to Obama-era FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.
If Manchin and Sinema are holdouts, and that remains into the new Congress, even with the Democrats picking up one seat, that would not be enough to get her the needed 51 votes, even with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote, as she did when it was necessary to seat a fifth Federal Trade Commissioner after a similar political split.
Last month, a group of unions called on Congress to hold the lame duck session vote. ▪️
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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.