Democrats fear Biden FCC nominee Gigi Sohn will not be confirmed

A woman with short hair and blue glasses holds her palms up as she speaks.  She is sitting.

Gigi Sohn testifies before the Senate Commerce Committee on February 9, 2022. Photo: Pete Marovich-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden’s nominee for an open seat on the Federal Communications Commission, Gigi Sohn, appears to be deadlocked in committee and is in danger of not reaching the full Senate for a vote, according to Democratic Senate officials.

Why it’s important: If her nomination falters, the FCC will remain deadlocked with two Republican and two Democratic commissioners — hampering the Biden administration’s efforts to implement key parts of the president’s agenda.

Driving the news: After a contentious Commerce Committee hearing two weeks ago, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the chairwoman, has yet to schedule a vote on Sohn’s confirmation.

  • That delay — combined with skepticism from Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and continued opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police — has led some Senate officials to conclude that Sohn’s nomination is in serious trouble, as it was in the last Congress .
  • Republicans strongly oppose Sohn and all voted against her in committee in the last Congress. She can’t afford to lose a single Democrat on the committee if she wants a quick vote.
  • “I would like to echo concerns that have been raised about the nominee’s positions on matters of law enforcement importance, both nationally and in Nevada,” Rosen said at the beginning of her questions to Sohn at the Feb. 14 hearing.
  • While Cantwell told reporters Wednesday that she hopes and expects to hold a vote on Sohn this month, the hearing has not been scheduled.

What they say: “The Senate will determine the details of the process, but Sohn is strongly qualified to serve on the commission,” said Olivia Dalton, a White House spokeswoman.

The big picture: In January, Biden renominated Sohn, a former FCC adviser, to a seat that has now been open for more than two years — hoping that Democrats’ new 51-49 Senate majority would secure her confirmation.

  • Conservatives have seized on past Twitter comments to paint her as an ideological Democrat. They have also focused on her association with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group that has clashed with law enforcement.
  • Sohn, who is also gay, has vigorously defended himself, condemning the “misleading attacks on my record and on my character.”
  • In her hearing, she accused “industry opponents” of using “dark money” groups to foment opposition. “Regulated entities should not choose their regulator,” Sohn said.

What we’re looking at: Three vulnerable senators on trade — Rosen, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — are up for election in 2024.

  • All three voted for Sohn in committee last year, but opposition from groups like the FOP carries more sway for senators in an election cycle.
  • Even if all three again support her in committee, Sohn could face several Democratic defections throughout the Senate. If Republicans stay united, she could only lose two Democratic votes on the floor.

The intrigue: Sohn donated $550 during the 2022 campaign to Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who served on the committee while her nomination was pending.

  • Her political donations have drawn the ire of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the ranking member of the Commerce Committee.
  • “I’m a citizen who just wanted to participate in the democratic process,” Sohn replied.

Between the lines: Senate Democrats facing tough re-election are showing a willingness to beat President Biden on tough issues.

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