President Donald Trump has nominated former FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to rejoin the US federal telecom regulator, filling a seat made empty by... herself.
There are actually two empty seats on the five-person FCC board – one Democrat and one Republican – but uncharacteristically, Trump did not announce a Republican pick at the same time.
This suggests that the president intends for Rosenworcel to take over the seat of the current commissioner, Democrat Mignon Clyburn, whose term is officially over at the end of this month.
Although Rosenworcel is a strong advocate for net neutrality – going against both the president and the current FCC chair's agenda – she is more centrist than Clyburn. Most significantly, she took the cable industry's side in the effort to end the Great Cable Box Rip-Off by noting she had "concerns" over the proposed plan. Her opposition led to the proposal being abandoned.
Rosenworcel is a good pick, however. She is widely respected on both sides of the aisle and in telecom policy circles, so having her as a third, Democratic member of the FCC, failing to fill the other two seats, and keeping the current 2-1 Republican majority could be seen as a good outcome for Trump and Republicans.
Gotta love Congress
However, the irony is thick. The reason Rosenworcel is not currently an FCC commissioner is because Republicans in Congress blocked her re-nomination by failing to hold hearings.
Her term officially ended on June 30, 2016 but she had been formally approved for a second term by President Obama many months before. Republicans in the Senate dragged out her confirmation in an effort to force the early resignation of FCC chair Tom Wheeler.
When the election results came in and it became clear there would be a Republican president and a Republican majority Congress, Wheeler tried to broker that deal – his scalp for her renomination – but failed.
At that point, in a sign of the endless partisan game-playing in Congress, it was actually Democrats who blocked her renomination, referring to her role in blocking the cable box rip-off effort. The end of 2016 passed without her confirmation, so she was out.
Wheeler then resigned – as per tradition – so president Trump could pick a new FCC chair, but then Trump named existing Republican commissioner Ajit Pai as chair, leaving the five-person commission with just three commissioners. Now, assuming Senate Republicans don't find another reason to block her, Rosenworcel will be back.
Which is good in one sense – the premature cutting-off of her career in public service was seen as unfair by just about everyone – but the political calculation behind her nomination still leaves a nasty, partisan taste in the mouth. ®