FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.FCC
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It looks like Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler will be staying on the FCC a bit longer, but his fellow Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel is on her way out.
Wheeler last week said he was willing to step down immediately if the US Senate reconfirmed Rosenworcel to another five-year term.
But the Republican-controlled Senate took no action on Rosenworcel, who must leave the FCC at the end of December if she doesn’t get another term.
“The Senate wrapped up its business for the year shortly before 7am Saturday, leaving FCC Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel out of its end-of-year deal to advance some pending nominees,” Politico reported.
The Senate could theoretically still reconfirm Rosenworcel by unanimous consent, but that isn’t likely, Multichannel News explained.
Republicans previously said they would not reconfirm Rosenworcel unless Wheeler resigned, because one Democrat must exit the FCC to let President-elect Donald Trump appoint a new Republican and give his party a 3-2 majority.
But by the time Wheeler promised to do so, Republicans had other ideas.
There wasn’t enough time left in the Senate’s session to handle Rosenworcel’s confirmation, Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said. Other Republicans supported taking no action on Rosenworcel because they hope both she and Wheeler will leave and give Republicans an immediate 2-1 majority.
With Rosenworcel out, the commission would shift from a 3-2 Democratic majority to a 2-2 deadlock at the beginning of January.
The commission has already halted major rulemakings for the remainder of Obama’s presidency at the request of Republicans in Congress.
Wheeler now faces a choice of whether to remain on the commission after Trump’s inauguration on January 20.
Trump can immediately appoint one of the commission’s two Republicans to serve as interim chairman, but Wheeler doesn’t have to leave the commission entirely.
When contacted by Ars, a spokesperson for Wheeler declined comment on whether he will stay on the commission after the inauguration.
A spokesperson for Rosenworcel has not replied to Ars this morning.
Commission chairs generally don’t stay long after a new president takes office.
But Wheeler’s term doesn’t expire until 2018, and Rosenworcel’s departure increases the likelihood that he will remain for part of Trump’s presidency in order to preserve a 2-2 tie between Republicans and Democrats and delay the potential undoing of net neutrality rules and other major rulemakings passed under his chairmanship.
But it’s inevitable that Wheeler will find himself in the minority party after Trump appoints a third Republican commissioner.
A Senate confirmation could take several months, but Republicans in Congress will be eager to make it happen.
Even if Wheeler stays on past the inauguration to temporarily preserve the 2-2 tie, he wouldn’t necessarily remain on the commission through all of 2017. Once Republicans have their majority, they may be willing to vote on a new Democratic nominee to replace Wheeler as a minority party commissioner.
Rosenworcel was criticized by some Democrats after holding up a proposal that would have required cable TV operators to make free TV applications that could replace rented set-top boxes.
But she was praised yesterday by House Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who said that “Senate Republicans turned their backs on consumers by failing to reconfirm FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for a second term.” Citing Rosenworcel’s advocacy for ending the “homework gap” that leaves poor schoolchildren without vital technology, Pallone said, “Her tireless efforts to protect consumers and lift up those in need exemplifies the type of first-rate public servant that Americans deserve.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.FCC