In a surprise development, President Trump announced late Tuesday that he will nominate Jessica Rosenworcel to return to the FCC seat she was forced to vacate six months ago. If confirmed by the Senate, Rosenworcel—a Democrat who had served at the FCC from 2012 until January 2017—would become the second FCC commissioner to serve non-consecutive terms at the agency. Rosenworcel’s initial five-year term at the FCC expired in May 2016. Almost a year before the end of her term, former President Obama re-nominated Rosenworcel to a full, five-year term at the FCC to expire on June 30, 2020.
Although Rosenworcel received a unanimous, favorable vote from members of the Senate Commerce Committee in December 2015, efforts to confirm her nomination through a Senate floor vote stalled as a result of what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) then described as “a number of objections from Senators.” Rosenworcel, meanwhile, continued to serve at the FCC under rules which permit agency commissioners to retain their seats until they are reconfirmed by the Senate or until the current Congressional session ends. Ultimately, Rosenworcel was forced to relinquish her FCC seat when the 114th Congress adjourned without conducting a vote on her long-pending renomination. As one of his last acts as President—and as former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler prepared to step down—Obama resubmitted Rosenworcel’s nomination to the Senate, but Trump withdrew that nomination upon assuming office.
Since the departure of Rosenworcel and Wheeler last January, the FCC has been controlled by a two-member Republican majority led by Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. Upon confirmation, Rosenworcel would rejoin Democratic colleague Mignon Clyburn, whose current term at the FCC is scheduled to expire at the end of this month. Trump has yet to announce a nominee for the third Republican seat at the FCC. Observers anticipate that Rosenworcel’s nomination will be considered alongside the yet-to-be-named Republican or alongside Pai, who is expected to be re-nominated when his term expires later this year. (In accordance with Senate tradition, agency nominations are usually considered in bipartisan pairs.) There has been no indication from the White House as to whether Clyburn will be re-nominated.