Republican Nathan Simington Confirmed to FCC Seat

FCC nominee Nate Simington
(Image credit: C-SPAN)

A divided Senate has approved President Trump's Republican nominee to the FCC, Nathan Simington.

Democrats strongly opposed the nomination of Simington, currently with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, arguing it was a way to stymie the Democratic FCC agenda out of the gate, but Republicans prevailed in a straight party line vote 49-46, though with no floor defense of the President's nominee after Democrats had pilloried him.

Senate Republicans have consistently appeared unenthusiastic about the Simington nomination, not speaking up strongly for him during the Commerce Committee's approval of the nomination on Tuesday before voting (the same 49-46) to proceed to a vote on his nomination

Simington was the President's choice while traditionally congressional Republicans would have a voice in the pick.

He is expected to take his seat, succeeding outgoing commissioner Michael O'Rielly, late Thursday (Dec. 8) or Friday, following the FCC's Thursday public meeting.

President Donald Trump nominated O'Rielly for a second term, but pulled the nomination following a speech in which O'Rielly raised questions about efforts to regulate social media, something the President has been pushing the FCC to do.

Related: Report Says Simington Reach Out to Fox News on Sec. 230 Petition

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, was the first to speak on the Simington nomination after the Senate, again divided along party lines, had voted to limit debate and proceed, eventually, to the nomination vote. 

She said she had questions about his neutrality and independence, given reports he had tried to enlist Fox News to spotlight the issue of regulating social media and given the abrupt withdrawal of O'Rielly's nomination in favor of Simington, who worked on NTIA's petition to the FCC seeking social media regulation, a petition Trump had mandated in an executive order as part of his effort to regulate sites, like Twitter and Facebook, he has long argued censor Republicans, including him.

Related: Trump Urges Confirmation of Simington

"I hope that we will not pass the Simington nomination," Cantwell said, but added that if he was to be confirmed, as assumed, her colleagues should move quickly to also approve a Democratic nominee to the commission, when one is chosen. She pointed out that, usually, Republican and Democratic FCC nominees are paired in such circumstances. A Republican Senate is not likely to rush to such confirmation, however.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the second senator to speak on the nomination, pulled no punches. 

He said Simington was dangerous to the FCC at this moment in history, for which he was the wrong person at the wrong time, pointing to President Trump's attempts to retaliate against social media platforms, his attempts to enlist the FCC in that effort, and Simington's participation in that effort. 

Blumenthal called him unprepared and unqualified for the post. He also cited the potential gridlock issue and noted the usual bipartisan pairing of nominees. He urged a no vote.

Democrats have reason to be worried that Simington's installation could tie up the Democratic agenda after Jan. 20--there would be two Democrats and two Republicans--and until a third Democrat can be named to Pai's commission seat--he is exiting Jan. 20--which if Republicans retain control could be months down the road.

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr, who will be the only other Republican on the commission after the chairman exits, has been urging the Senate to confirm Simington so together they can thwart a Democratic FCC's moves out of the gate.

In an appearance on Fox Business' Cavuto Coast-to-Coast, Carr said: "I think it would be very valuable to get Simington across the finish line and help forestall what really would be billions of dollars worth of economic damage that I think a Democratic FCC would look to jam through from Day One. One thing a Democratic FCC is expected to do is restore net neutrality rules, which Carr has called "socialism in sheep's clothing."

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.