Thune Hints at One Way to ‘Free Up’ Rosenworcel Nomination

A top Republican in Congress suggested Wednesday that the political tug-of-war over the confirmation of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel could be smoothed over if agency head Tom Wheeler agrees to step down at the end of President Obama’s term.

“I suspect that nominees and unfinished legislation probably get freed up when we get past the election,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

“I think that would help, probably in a lot of ways, free up the Rosenworcel nomination,” said Thune, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, referring to a scenario in which Chairman Wheeler would promise to voluntarily leave the FCC when Obama leaves the White House in January. Wheeler’s term is set to expire in 2018.

“As you know, I’ve asked that question in hearings, and he’s been very evasive in responding to it,” Thune said. The South Dakota Republican asked Wheeler at a March hearing if he would step down at the end of Obama’s term. Leaders of the FCC have traditionally stepped down before their terms end to allow the new president to nominate a new agency head.

“It’s a ways off,” Wheeler said at the March hearing. “I understand precedent. I understand expectations. I also understand that 10 or 11 months is a long time. So it’s probably not the wisest thing in the world to do to make some kind of ironclad commitment.”

Wheeler is set to testify next week at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing featuring all five FCC commissioners. He’s expected to face tough questions yet again about his post-election plans.

Bloomberg BNA reported in July, citing unnamed telecom industry sources, that Wheeler plans to stay in his post until the middle of 2017 if Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wins in November. A spokeswoman for Wheeler didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Senate Commerce Committee approved Rosenworcel’s renomination in December with strong support from both parties. That came after she was nominated in May 2015 for a second term at the FCC. Having worked as a staffer for former Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Rosenworcel is popular among the current committee members.

Despite that popularity, her confirmation vote in the full Senate has been held up for months. If she doesn’t get a vote in the Senate this year, she will be forced to leave the commission.

Senate Democrats have berated Republicans, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in particular, about an alleged deal he made with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in December 2014 to confirm Rosenworcel to a second term. Democrats say McConnell promised Reid and Rockefeller that the Republicans would move Rosenworcel’s nomination quickly at the start of the 114th Congress if Democrats agreed to confirm Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. O’Rielly was sworn into office for his second term in January 2015, while Rosenworcel’s nomination for a second term has languished.

In April, Reid took to the Senate floor to urge McConnell to advance Rosenworcel’s nomination. “This commitment was made to me about a year and a half ago,” he said. “We have to keep our trust. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.”

Commerce Committee Democrats Bill Nelson (Fla.), Ed Markey (Mass.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) have urged Republicans to allow a confirmation vote on Rosenworcel.

McConnell’s office has said that the decision to hold Rosenworcel’s nomination is out of the majority leader’s control, and that Thune did what he could by making good on his word and giving her nomination a vote out of committee.

A spokeswoman for the FCC offered this comment. “As he has said previously, Chairman Wheeler will work with the incoming administration to facilitate a logical transition. In addition, the chairman has repeatedly said that he wants Commissioner Rosenworcel to be confirmed as soon as possible.”

This story has been updated to add FCC reaction.


Tech Brief: Lobbying Tech Groups Target NAFTA Renegotiations

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the number of tech companies and trade associations registered to lobby U.S., Canadian and Mexican government officials has more than doubled in the last few months. Companies like Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are looking to zero out tariffs for tech goods and remove restrictions on cloud storage as officials prepare to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Tech Brief: Intel CEO Leaves Trump’s Manufacturing Council

Brian Krzanich, Intel Corp.’s chief executive, joined the chief executives of Merck and Under Armour in announcing that he would leave Trump’s council on American manufacturing following the president’s response to violence during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Krzanich said he resigned “to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues.” 

Tech Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit will not block the Federal Communications Commission’s April decision to eliminate price caps for much of the business broadband market. The FCC’s business data services ruling deems certain local markets as competitive, even when there is only one broadband service provider.

Tech Brief: Benchmark Capital Sues Former Uber CEO Kalanick

Benchmark Capital is suing Uber Technologies Inc.’s co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick for not honoring the terms of his resignation and allegedly trying to stack the company’s board with allies to prepare for a return as CEO. The Silicon Valley venture firm, one of Uber’s biggest shareholders, alleges that Kalanick is attempting to “entrench himself for his own selfish ends” — an accusation a Kalanick spokesman called “without merit.”

Tech Brief: Kaspersky Lab, Microsoft Reach Antitrust Resolution

Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab plans to withdraw antitrust complaints it made in Europe against Microsoft Corp. after the U.S. tech company agreed to work with outside antivirus vendors on delivery of its security updates for Windows users. The Moscow-based security company in June accused Microsoft of abusing its dominance in the computer market by favoring its own antivirus software over those of independent security companies.

Tech Brief: SoftBank Considers U.S. Ride-Hailing Investment

SoftBank Group Corp.’s founder and CEO, Masayoshi Son, publicly expressed interest in branching out into the U.S. ride-hailing market by investing in Uber Technologies Inc. or Lyft Inc. SoftBank has funded Uber’s competitors in China, India and Southeast Asia, but last month reports came out that the company was looking at buying a stake in Uber.

Tech Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

Apple Inc. agreed to remove virtual private network applications from its app stores in China. The Chinese government has been bolstering its “great firewall,” which blocks access to many, mostly foreign, websites — a firewall that VPNs could circumvent. The company defended its actions, saying it complies with the law in every country, but is facing public backlash for giving into China’s censorship demands.

Load More