December 12, 2016–The Senate failed to vote on FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination for a second term before it completed its work for the 114th Congress on Dec. 10. As a result, Ms. Rosenworcel must leave her job when the current congress ends on Jan. 3. Meanwhile, a number of telecom bills also stalled in the Senate. The Senate is holding multiple pro forma sessions until the 115th Congress convenes on Jan. 3, but it is not conducting any business.
Ms. Rosenworcel, who has been a Commissioner since 2012, declined to comment today on the turn of events that saw some Republicans concerned that if they approved her for a second term, Democrats could still have a majority under a Republican-led FCC if FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler decided to remain as a Commissioner, which is not expected, or at least that the agency would be deadlocked at 2-2 if Mr. Wheeler stepped down until a new Commissioner was confirmed. Republicans were angry that Mr. Wheeler had repeatedly declined to specify that he would step down after the election.
Mr. Wheeler told Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) last week that he would be willing to leave the Commission immediately if it would clear the way for Ms. Rosenworcel’s confirmation, an FCC official has said.
A cloture motion was necessary in order to get a vote on Ms. Rosenworcel’s nomination due to objections to vote by unanimous consent. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) circulated a cloture motion on her nomination, but he didn’t actually file it, according to a source.
“It’s disappointing, but not a surprise,” an FCC official said of the Senate’s failure to vote on Ms. Rosenworcel’s nomination. “Republicans broke the promise they made last year to confirm Commissioner Rosenworcel. When Wheeler pledged to immediately step down in exchange for her confirmation, it was clear they were out of excuses. ?As Senator Johnson admitted last week, a 2-1 Commission is their real goal.”
Last week, an aide to Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said he didn’t want the Senate to vote on the nomination of Ms. Rosenworcel for another term (TRDaily, Dec. 8). “Senator Johnson supports efforts to ensure a 2-1 Republican majority at the FCC so that we can begin to roll back the burdensome regulations it recently issued,” the spokesman said. “In particular, he looks forward to working with the Republicans at the FCC and his colleagues in the Senate to reverse President Obama’s harmful regulations on broadband service providers that treat the Internet as a public utility.”
Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today called it “deeply disappointing that the Senate did not reconfirm FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel before adjourning. As I said many times, Republicans made a commitment to move swiftly on her confirmation – a commitment that sadly and regretfully was not honored. Commissioner Rosenworcel is an outstanding public servant, whose commitment to the public interest and to American consumers is beyond reproach. She has served the agency – and indeed the nation – with distinction, and not surprisingly established herself as a reasoned, thoughtful and bipartisan regulator. I hope she’ll be renominated and the Senate lives up to its word.”
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R., S.D.), who had worked to get a vote on Ms. Rosenworcel’s nomination, had no comment today.
“Over the weekend, Senate Republicans turned their backs on consumers by failing to reconfirm FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for a second term,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Her integrity and advocacy has helped shape the Commission’s work over the past four years. Commissioner Rosenworcel has been a champion for hard-working Americans, including schoolchildren at risk of falling into the ‘homework gap.’ Her tireless efforts to protect consumers and lift up those in need exemplifies the type of first-rate public servant that Americans deserve.”
Two Democrats also recently briefly had placed holds on her nomination but then lifted them (TRDaily, Nov. 21). Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) had placed a hold on the MOBILE NOW Act (S 2555) because of the Senate’s failure to vote on the nomination of Ms. Rosenworcel. Mr. Reid complained that Mr. McConnell had reneged on an agreement to let the Senate vote on Ms. Rosenworcel at the beginning of the 114th Congress. He said that against his better judgment, he agreed to permit the Senate to vote on the nomination of FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly near the end of the 113th Congress in December 2014 when the Democrats were in the majority without pairing Mr. O’Rielly, as would be custom, with a Democratic nominee. In exchange, he said, he was promised that the Senate would vote on Ms. Rosenworcel’s nomination early in the 114th Congress.
But an aide to Sen. McConnell had said that there were holds on Ms. Rosenworcel’s nomination. As a result of Mr. Reid’s hold, S 2555 stalled in the Senate. These other telecom bills also did not get through: S 2644, FCC Reauthorization Act of 2016; S 2553, Kari’s Law Act of 2016 (part of S.2644); S 2558, Spoofing Prevention Act of 2016 (part of S.2644); S 827, Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2015; and S 2997, Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act of 2016.
Ms. Rosenworcel, a former Senate aide and legal adviser to former Commissioner Michael Copps, has been particularly vocal on the need to close the “homework gap” caused by the lack of broadband connectivity to many households.
Spectrum matters have been another of her priorities. For example, she has said that any move to make more licensed spectrum available should include a “Wi-Fi dividend” of unlicensed frequencies, and she often has discussed the need to make more low-, mid-, and high-band frequencies available.
The Commissioner, who as a Hill staffer helped work on the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which established the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network, also has taken a special interest in public safety issues. Her first speech after she was sworn in was at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International’s annual conference (TRDaily, Aug. 21, 2012), and she often mentions in public safety speeches some of the public safety answering points (PSAPs) that she has visited.
Some FCC stakeholders said today that they were disappointed that Ms. Rosenworcel was not confirmed for another term. John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, said that his group “is quite disappointed that Commissioner Rosenworcel’s nomination was not approved by the Senate. She has been a steady supporter of the E-rate program and worked tireless to ensure that all the Universal Service Fund programs operate efficiently and effectively. Due to her leadership, solving the ‘homework gap’ is now widely recognized as a key component of solving the larger ‘digital divide.’ From her earliest days of supporting the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program in the Senate, she has been a consistent advocate of extending high-capacity broadband to schools, libraries and other anchor institutions. We hope that her successor is equally committed to serving the public interest.”
“We are disappointed that Commissioner Rosenworcel was not reconfirmed, given her leadership on unlicensed spectrum and her forward-thinking views on spectrum policy,” said Alex Phillips, president of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. “However, we look forward to working with the remaining Commissioners and whomever President-elect Trump appoints to fill this vacancy.” – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org