November 9, 2016–President-elect Donald J. Trump’s victory has left close watchers of the FCC and other agencies wondering about who will be the next FCC Chairman and who will get other plum jobs in the new administration. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who is a long-time Washington player with scores of allies well-known in the telecom community, Mr. Trump is not well-known to policy-makers and observers. “At this point, it would be speculation as to who will be appointed Chairman, essentially controlling the agenda of the FCC. But, at times like these, speculation is what people in Washington do,” David Oxenford, a partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP, noted in a blog posting today.
He pointed out that a key figure in the Trump transition is Jeffrey Eisenach, a visiting scholar at the free-market American Enterprise Institute and managing director at NERA Economic Consulting who is leading the administration’s FCC transition team.
By tradition, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would be expected to step down before Mr. Trump is sworn in, at which time Mr. Trump would be free to designate any sitting Commissioner as Chairman or as acting Chairman until his preferred designee could be nominated and confirmed. Traditionally, the senior-most Commissioner of the president’s party, in this case Ajit Pai, is named acting Chairman. As for who could get the job permanently, FCC observers speculated today that Mr. Pai could, or perhaps Commissioner O’Rielly.
Other possibilities could include Mr. Eisenach; David Redl, chief majority counsel-communications and technology for the House Energy and Commerce Committee; or David Quinalty, Republican policy director of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, sources speculated. When contacted by TRDaily this afternoon, Mr. Eisenach declined to comment.
The Trump transition team has been consulting with subject matter experts “for several weeks,” according to a source. “I think it’s been a pretty small organization.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is still awaiting a Senate vote on her renomination, but observers suggested that Mr. Trump’s victory makes it unlikely she will get confirmed. Without such confirmation, she must leave the agency at the end of the current session of Congress.
The FCC would have a 2-1 majority if Ms. Rosenworcel’s term expires and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler steps down by the Jan. 20 inauguration, as would be expected. “I cannot imagine that [the] GOP will confirm Rosenworcel, since they will want to wait and package the Democrat’s slot with their choice for Chair,” one source said.
As for changes in congressional leadership, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) is facing an end to his tenure under House Republican term limits for committee chairs.
Rick Boucher, a former Democratic congressman from Virginia who chaired the House communications and the Internet subcommittee and is now honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, said today that the new committee chairman will be either Rep. John Shimkus (R., Ill.), currently chairman of the environment and the economy subcommittee, or Rep. Greg Walden (R., Ore.), current chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee. – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Lynn Stanton, email@example.com