Trump Nominating Rosenworcel for Return FCC Engagement

In what appears to be an unprecedented move, former Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will also be future Democratic FCC commissioner if the Senate confirms her as expected.

Shortly before midnight Tuesday, June 13, President Donald Trump signaled his intention to nominate Rosenworcel to a five-year term and a return engagement as a Democratic FCC commissioner.

The office of press secretary Sean Spicer announced the news in an email advisory, a move that the inside-the-Beltway FCC watchers have been expecting for several weeks.

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Rosenworcel, who had served on the commission between 2012 and the end of 2016, was forced to exit at the end of last year after Congress failed to bring her renomination to a vote despite unanimous approval by the Senate Commerce Committee and support from both Democratic and Republican legislative leaders after Senate Republican leadership would not schedule a vote.

President Trump withdrew Obama's renomination of Rosenworcel, which if she had been seated would have left the FCC at a 2-2 political divide once FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler exited.

Currently the FCC is down to only three members, two Republicans and a Democrat. The FCC can still render decisions on issues the lone Democrat disagrees with, and has on numerous occasions, most notably the decision to roll back Title II. But if Democrat Mignon Clyburn exits—her term is up at the end of June but she could serve until the end of 2018, the FCC will lack a quorum to vote on items.

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Rosenworcel would likely need to be paired with a nominee for the Republican seat—the Administration would not want to create a 2-2 tie, which would be the case unless Mignon Clyburn exited. In that event, the Clyburn seat could be paired with the new Republican and Rosenworcel paired with Pai, whose term also ends in June. One name being floated for the third Republican seat is Brendan Carr, currently the acting FCC General Counsel and formerly a staffer in the office of current chairman Ajit Pai.

Rosenworcel's renomination got caught up in an unrelated political fight between the Republicans and Democrats over nominations in general.

Former Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had taken to the Senate floor in April 2016 to call for a vote on Rosenworcel's renomination, in the process saying majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had broken his word to act on Rosenworcel after the Democrats agreed last year to vote out Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly. Usually commissioners are paired, Democrat and Republican, before being voted, but Reid said he agreed to vote O'Rielly by himself after getting McConnell's promise that Rosenworcel would also get a vote. She did not.

"Jessica Rosenworcel has served with distinction at the FCC and, before that, on Capitol Hill," said veteran public interest attorney Andrew Schwartzman. "This appointment rights a wrong, because she deserved confirmation last year, and should have been sitting on the Commission all along. I look forward to her zealous advocacy for universal broadband deployment, especially for younger Americans."

"NAB is delighted to hear that President Trump will renominate Jessica Rosenworcel to the FCC," said National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith. "Commissioner Rosenworcel is supremely qualified for another FCC term, having demonstrated her public service credentials and full command of telecommunications issues during her Commission tenure. NAB strongly supports her renomination and confirmation."

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.