Rosenworcel FCC Renomination Saga Continues

The Jessica Rosenworcel renomination soap opera continued Wednesday as the days dwindled down on re-confirming the Democratic FCC commissioner.

There were said to be a lot of moving pieces in a possible deal between outgoing Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) involving an appointment McConnell wants to see go through.

A source close to the Hill players confirmed a report in Morning Consult that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had signaled that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's failure to commit to leaving the FCC—he has signaled he is likely not staying but has not made it official—was one hold-up in getting a Senate floor vote on Rosenworcel's confirmation, though it is McConnell that controls the calendar. Reid had reportedly said a deal was in the works.

A Thune spokesperson was not available for comment at press time.

Rosenworcel's office had no comment on the status of a possible vote. Her current term has expired, but she can serve through the end of the current Congress, which could extend to Dec. 31 or even early January if Congress stays open on a pro-forma basis to prevent recess appointments, as is standard procedure.

Rosenworcel was unanimously recommended for a new five-year term by the Senate Commerce Committee after being renominated by President Obama, and she has backers in industry and on the Hill from both parties. But her re-confirmation has been held hostage to a political fight unrelated to her qualifications or record.

There was a brief hold on her nomination last week by a pair of Senate Democrats unhappy over the fact that she had issues with the FCC's set-top box proposal that were not able to be resolved by the time of a scheduled meeting vote.

That hold was quickly lifted after they talked with her, and the way is clear for a vote if McConnell schedules it. If there is a vote, she is expected to easily secure the votes for confirmation.

Wheeler's exit is important because, otherwise, there is at least the possibility he could stick around as commissioner and make the FCC a 3-2 Democratic majority with a Republican chairman, which could effectively thwart any efforts to roll back his deregulatory agenda. That is highly unusual, but arguably so is the current political climate.

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.