Yesterday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Brendan Carr to serve as commissioners at the FCC. However, while the nominations of dozens of other federal agency appointees were also approved, Senate lawmakers failed to act on the nomination of Ajit Pai to serve a full term as FCC Chairman, thus leaving Pai’s confirmation vote in limbo until Congress returns from its summer recess next month.
On the eve of yesterday’s Senate vote, members of the Senate Commerce Committee approved the nomination of Rosenworcel to return to the FCC commissioner’s seat she once held, for a term ending in June 2020. Over the objections of committee Democrats, the panel also voted by a 14-13 margin to approve the nomination of Carr, currently the FCC’s General Counsel, to serve as an FCC commissioner for the remainder of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s term, which expires in June 2018, and for an additional five-year term to run through June 2023. Pointing to uncertainty surrounding the future FCC service of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn—a Democrat whose term expired in June—and citing the Senate’s customary practice of considering federal agency nominees in bipartisan pairs, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) joined other Democrats in urging approval of Carr’s FCC service only through the end of Wheeler’s unfinished term next June. In so doing, Democrats argued that Carr could be considered for a second FCC term alongside Clyburn (if she is renominated) or another Democrat to be nominated for her vacant seat. Although that stance was overruled by Republicans on the panel, Senators voted yesterday in favor of the committee Democrats in confirming Carr only for a partial term ending in June 2018. Rosenworcel was confirmed for a term expiring in June 2020.
Observers of yesterday’s Senate proceedings noted that Democrats who oppose pending FCC proceedings to roll back Title II classification of broadband services stalled the vote on Pai’s nomination. The Senate is expected to conduct a recorded vote on Pai’s nomination when it reconvenes in September, which would give lawmakers an opportunity to speak for or against the nomination. If Pai is not confirmed, and if Clyburn is not re-nominated and confirmed, both would have to leave office when successors are confirmed or by the end of the 115th Congress in December 2018.
Pai, meanwhile, tweeted his congratulations to Rosenworcel and Carr, declaring: “I’m pleased that the FCC will once again be at full strength and look forward to collaborating to close the digital divide.” Similarly, Clyburn voiced confidence that Rosenworcel and Carr “will carry on the Commission’s important work when it comes to closing the digital divide,” as FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly anticipated working with Rosenworcel and Carr “on important communications issues for the benefit of the American people.”