Democrats are increasingly frustrated at President Joe Biden for failing to name anyone to serve on the Federal Communications Commission for nearly nine months, a historic delay that could soon put Republicans in the majority at the agency and place Biden’s broadband goals at risk, Politico reported on Wednesday.
Congressional Democrats are upset that so much time has already been wasted to achieve such priorities as reinstating net neutrality rules and demanding greater transparency on internet billing, especially since there are now few legislative days remaining this year for even confirming any nominees Biden might offer.
No previous president has waited this long to name a chair of the five-member body. Biden’s inaction contrasts sharply to former President Donald Trump, who named Ajit Pai as his FCC chair just three days after being sworn in. The commission’s Republicans were already rolling back net neutrality by December 2017, just 11 months after Trump took office.
New Mexico Democrat Sen. Ben Ray Luján, who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband, told Politico that “there’s no good excuse” for the delay, adding that “I’m absolutely fearful that what the administration is setting up is a 2-1 Republican majority FCC under a Democratic administration. That is unacceptable.”
Luján and 24 other Democrat caucus members last month urged Biden to name the agency’s acting chair, Jessica Rosenworcel, as permanent head.
The five-member agency is already short one Democrat, leaving the parties in a 2-2 split. Compounding problems for the Democrats is that Rosenworcel’s term on the commission lapsed in June 2020, which means she must leave at the end of this year unless Biden nominates her and the Senate confirms her to a new five-year term.
If Rosenworcel departs without a replacement, junior Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks would become acting chair, but he would also need GOP support to advance anything, since the FCC’s two Republicans could outvote him.
“My guess is they’re probably vetting some names,” Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell said of the White House.
Rosenworcel, who was named by Biden as the agency’s interim chief in January, has led eight FCC open meetings, all of them without a Democrat majority.
Although this has led to an inability to push Democrat priorities, the FCC during this time has still been active, taking such bipartisan actions as setting up billions of dollars’ worth of pandemic aid connectivity programs and launching a subsidy program to help rural wireless carriers rip controversial Huawei and ZTE equipment from their networks.
Left-leaning agency observers say it would be a no-brainer to name Rosenworcel.
“I’m super frustrated,” said University of Virginia professor Christopher Ali, who researches broadband. “I feel that she is trying to lead an agency with both hands and both feet tied behind her legs because she can’t really get anything done.” He added that “the fact that the Biden administration hasn’t done this, when broadband is such a massive priority for them, is vexing.”
Republicans, who see the status quo as an unexpected gift and hope they can keep delaying partisan fights that would probably override their views, have praised what they view as a productive bipartisan agenda under Rosenworcel’s 2-2 split.