Reports last week indicate that Senate Democrats – the minority Party – had pulled together enough of their Republican majority cohorts to have a lame-duck session vote to give Democrat Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel a brand new term.
A lame-duck session – as in a vote by members whom We the People just said we don’t want voting anymore. To preemptively foist upon incoming Republican President Donald Trump – a Democrat-controlled FCC.
Now that’s stupid.
Here’s how the FCC is populated. There are five voting Commissioners – one of whom also serves as Chairman. Thus the partisan split is 3-2 – with the President’s Party holding the majority. They serve Senate-confirmed terms – which means Commissioner tenures often bridge administrations.
Current Democrat Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s term does. So do the terms of both current Republicans – Ajit Pai and Mike O’Reilly. Commissioner Rosenworcel’s term ends this year – in other words, imminently. Thus the Democrat push to renew.
One problem that has arisen – is chronic-problem-creator Chairman Tom Wheeler. The longstanding precedent is that the sitting Chairman resigns when an opposing-Party president is elected. Wheeler has been saying for almost a year that he might not do that.
Because Wheeler likes breaking bad from FCC precedent. For instance, the Commission is usually a fairly non-partisan entity – despite the 3-2 split. They vote on lots of technical stuff that nigh always garners 5-0 votes. But Wheeler has jammed through power grab after power grab – and as a result has overseen more 3-2 votes than the last five FCCs combined.
These were executive branch fiats – no different than if President Barack Obama his own self had signed them. And if regulations live by the fiat – they can die by the fiat. Enter President-elect Trump.
From all appearances, Trump intends to oversee a sea change regulatory rollback. He has repeatedly pledged to cut regulations of all types. And he plans to start right away.
Per the FCC specifically, Trump has slammed the Obama-Wheeler signature power grab – Network Neutrality. He in November 2014 Tweeted “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.”
And personnel is policy – he has named two huge fans of deregulation to his Tech transition team.
Trump looks ready to release the Internet from the Obama-Wheeler regulatory straight-jacket. Which is undoubtedly why Wheeler is threatening to stick around – to try to protect his authoritarian legacy.
Wheeler staying, even with Rosenworcel’s term ending, would mean Trump would be stuck with an even 2-2 split. Which means he couldn’t begin rolling back anything.
And now Senate Republicans are considering renewing Rosenworcel? Which would turn the 2-2 split – into a 3-2 Democrat majority?
Thankfully, some Senate Republicans grasp this concept: “Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, told Morning Consult on Tuesday that whatever decision Wheeler makes about his future at the FCC will be a deciding factor – if not the deciding factor – in whether the Senate holds a vote to reconfirm Rosenworcel….Thune said there’s ‘no question’ that Wheeler’s indecision is ‘a complicating factor. It’s an extenuating circumstance that I think bears on that progress.’”
Senate Democrats have even held Senate Republicans – and are now holding the incoming-Trump Administration – hostage. Because Wheeler won’t promise to leave, Republicans have rightly held off on a new Rosenworcel term. So Democrats have blocked a slate of Republican Tech bills. Which is, of course, absurd.
Here’s what should happen.
Wheeler’s obstinance is and has always been the only reason for Rosenworcel’s tenuous position. And it should now cost her her gig – at least until Wheeler actually, officially leaves. Wheeler and Clyburn make two Democrat Commissioners – that’s all they get under a Republican President.
A newly-sworn-in President Trump should immediately nominate a Republican FCC Chairman – or promote either of the excellent current Republican Commissioners and simultaneously name a Republican replacement. To get to the proper 3-2 partisan population.
And Trump and Senate Republicans should promise to reconfirm Rosenworcel – just as soon as a Democrat seat opens up. Which is entirely up to the two seated Democrats.
Let’s not help with – and actually reward – FCC Chairman Wheeler and Senate Democrats for their ongoing, pernicious intransigence.
This first appeared in Red State.