A divided Senate Commerce Committee voted along party lines Thursday to send Gigi Sohn’s FCC nomination to the full Senate. The vote was 14-14, enabled by Sen. Ben Ray Lujan’s (D-NM) return to the Capitol from his recent stroke. With a tie vote a nominee can get a floor vote, but with no favorable or unfavorable recommendation, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Lujan received a standing ovation from his fellow senators as he entered the room, and thanked well-wishers for all the cards, letters, videos and prayers. It all worked, he said, “and it’s good to be back. I missed you all.”
The rest of the vote was not so cordial. Partisan tensions, which boiled over during Sohn’s two confirmation hearings, were still on display yesterday.
Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said Sohn needs to be on the Commission so the agency can fulfill the administration’s broadband priorities.
But Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS), said that while he appreciated Sohn’s willingness to be “responsive” to the committee, he couldn’t support her because the committee’s vetting process showed she wasn’t the right choice. Her voluntary recusal to refrain from voting on television retransmission issues “only increases questions about the need for further recusals,” he said.
After the vote, Cantwell recognized additional Republicans who wanted to speak. John Thune (R-SD) noted that a former committee member made the point that Sohn has consistently shown a “disdain for rural broadband.”
Ted Cruz (R-TX) said: “There are a lot of significant substantive concerns” about Sohn. “My concern is, she has expressed a significant willingness to use government power against enemies. I think the FCC is a dangerous place for a partisan who is willing to muzzle those with whom she disagrees.”
“I hope there are at least some in the Democratic caucus who value free speech,” said Cruz. He emphasized it would be “equally inappropriate for a Republican on the FCC to silence Democrats.”
Cruz also claimed that Sohn admitted in follow-up questions after the second hearing that she mistakenly misled the committee when she said she was not a party to the Locast settlement. Sohn was on the board at the TV streamer when a court shut it down for streaming copyrighted broadcast programming without a copyright exemption, Inside Towers reported. He said it’s a “mistake” to move forward with her nomination.
Cantwell disagreed, and explained, “one of the reasons we had a second hearing was to review the case in detail. I don’t think Sohn will actively participate in censorship” if she’s nominated to the FCC. From time to time, we disagree on nominees because of the roles they’ve played in the past.” She noted in the future, a committee staffer could be nominated to the agency. “Are we going to say they’re too partisan to be at the FCC?”
Cantwell noted the committee passed the vote. Wicker took issue with her language, saying, “The motion failed on a tie vote.” Cantwell said, “Yes, we’re recording a tie vote. It allows Sohn and other nominees to proceed.”
She then thanked Lujan, saying: “I think Sen. Lujan made the most effort to get here and make it happen.”
It’s not clear when Sohn will get a floor vote, however yesterday’s committee action was a step in that direction.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief