|Washington Insight, April 2009|
With the White House’s late March nomination of Julius Genachowski to be the next FCC chairman, expect a love feast among Democratic Senators when Genachowski finally undergoes his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. NATPE's Washington Counsel Mickey Gardner tells us what we can expect from Genachowski's confirmation hearing…
Genachowski Nominated to Chair FCC
The new chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, John D. Rockefeller IV, (D-WV) already has made it clear that he enthusiastically supports Julius Genachowski’s nomination to be FCC chair. A statement issued by a Rockefeller staffer said: "…Julius Genachowski has the public and private sector experience in telecommunications to reinvigorate the FCC. Senator Rockefeller commends President Obama for nominating someone who is completely committed to making technology accessible to all Americans and he looks forward to working on the many challenges that the commission and the committee will face in the months and years ahead.”
While it is no surprise that Senator Rockefeller is supportive of President Obama’s FCC Chairman designee, it is less certain whether Republicans on the Senate Commerce committee will support the Genachowski nomination if it’s not "paired" with the President’s formal nomination of a Republican to fill the vacant seat previously held by FCC commissioner Debbie Tate.
Traditionally, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Commerce committee agree to simultaneously approve FCC nominees from each of their parties, -- hence the term “pairing.”
However, at this point, the White House personnel office has not indicated who else beyond Genachowski will be nominated to fill the two additional Commission vacancies. Thus, it appears that the Obama White House wants to have Genachowski confirmed alone by the Senate in the near term, filling the soon-to-be vacant FCC seat currently held by commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.
Adelstein was recently nominated by the President to head up the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) -- a program that has just received billions of dollars as part of the Stimulus Bill’s plan to provide broadband to rural Americans. By nominating Adelstein to this new position, the White House has created another potential vacancy at the FCC, which presumably will be filled by Genachowski. Importantly, if Genachowski takes the Adelstein seat, he would not have to stand for re-nomination and Senate confirmation until 2013 – the conclusion of the five-year slot that Adelstein is currently occupying.
The big question for FCC watchers is whether the While House personnel office will take months to identify Tate’s replacement as well as the President’s nominee for the third Democratic seat on the Commission. That “vetting” process could take a protracted period and, if Republicans insist on “pairing” Genachowski with the two other FCC Commission nominees, the prospects of Genachowski becoming chairman in the next month could be derailed; it could also delay Adelstein’s move to his new RUS assignment. That’s because Adelstein would need to remain on the Commission until Genachowski is confirmed in order to preserve the 2-1 Democratic control of the FCC.
Complicated – yes. But it’s also politically very important because the last thing the Obama White House wants is an FCC with only one Democrat and one Republican commissioner.
While the substantial remake of the FCC is underway, the energetic acting FCC chairman Michael Copps is moving ahead aggressively on a number of fronts. In fact, the Commission’s April 8 open meeting has a jammed packed agenda of five items. These include a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on developing a national broadband plan, a vote on a Report and Order (R&O) on Improving Data Collection on Minority and Female Broadcast Ownership, and a supplemental NOI on Video Competition.
So while the FCC is in flux, it nonetheless remains one of the busiest places in the Federal City.