Cantwell Still Seeks February Sohn Hearing Despite Continued Senate Organizing Delay
The Senate Commerce Committee’s timeline for acting on FCC nominee Gigi Sohn remained in flux Friday as Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, continued to embrace different timelines for a third confirmation on the long-stalled Sohn. Cantwell said Thursday she remains intent on having the hearing this month despite continued procedural hurdles that largely delayed Senate business. Cruz told us he’s still pushing for Commerce to delay the panel until March to give GOP members more time to prepare their case against Sohn (see 2301260068). President Joe Biden renominated Sohn in January after the new Congress convened (see 2301030060).
The Biden administration is “anticipating Senate Commerce will hold an additional hearing” on Sohn and doesn’t see that as a reason to withdraw her nomination, a White House spokesperson told us. The administration denied a Fox News report that it pulled Sohn because of Republicans’ hearing request (see 2302020048). Sohn faced significant GOP criticism during her 2021 and 2022 confirmation hearings (see 2202090070), and the White House is hoping to avoid the same process stall that she faced last year, lobbyists said.
Cantwell told reporters she still wants to have the new Sohn hearing “some time in February” but isn’t guaranteeing it will happen before the Senate leaves for a recess the week of Feb. 20 for Presidents' Day. The White House is “on board” with actively pushing for Sohn’s confirmation and hasn’t pushed back over Commerce’s plans to take her through the vetting process again, Cantwell said: “You expect” that will have to occur again when an administration has to renominate a non-confirmed nominee at the start of a new Congress.
“We’re working with” Cantwell “on the timing” of Sohn’s hearing, but “I think it’s important for all members of the committee to have ample time to assess every nominee on the merits,” Cruz told us: Sohn “is a deeply flawed nominee and the Biden administration is wasting its time” continuing to push for her confirmation. “I don’t think she has the votes” to win Senate approval even now that the chamber has shifted to a 51-49 overall Democratic majority, Cruz said. Republicans are likely to remain uniformly opposed to her and some Democrats remain undecided despite more than a year of pressure from the White House, lobbyists said.
“The problem” Commerce leaders have encountered with finalizing a hearing date for Sohn “has been organizing” the Senate and repeated delays in passing a resolution to formally set committees’ membership rosters for this Congress amid GOP caucus wrangling, Cantwell said: “Hopefully … we can start having hearings” the week of Feb. 13 if a delayed Commerce organizational meeting happens Thursday as now scheduled. The panel postponed the planned executive session last week because of the chamber holdup, though Republicans approved their committee rosters (see 2302010057).
Cantwell said she hasn’t had conversations with the White House about its timeline for deciding whether to renominate sitting FCC Democrat Geoffrey Starks, though “some people may have talked to our staff” about the issue. Starks’ term ended June 30, and he will have to leave the commission no later than Jan. 3, 2024, absent reconfirmation. GOP Commissioner Brendan Carr’s term will end June 30 this year, and he will have to leave the FCC by Jan. 3, 2025, absent reconfirmation. The long-term stability of a 3-2 Democratic FCC majority would remain in question even if the Senate confirms Sohn while the outcome of the Starks seat remains in limbo, lobbyists said.
“Nothing speaks louder” as a way for more Senate Democrats to speak against recent reports misrepresenting Sohn’s role as an Electronic Frontier Foundation board member (see 2301300025) “than voting on her nomination and letting a qualified public servant get to work,” Free Press co-CEO Craig Aaron tweeted Friday.
Biden, meanwhile, plans to elevate President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee Vice Chair Scott Charnley to become the panel’s chair, with former Lumen CEO Jeff Storey becoming vice chair, the White House said Friday. Also joining NSTAC: Lockheed Martin Vice President-Military Space Johnathon Caldwell, Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg, Comcast Chief Product and Information Security Officer Noopur Davis, Siemens CEO Barbara Humpton, Cox CISO Kim Keever, Verizon President-Global Networks and Technology Kyle Malady, Mandiant CEO Kevin Mandia, Cisco Chief Operating Officer Maria Martinez, AT&T COO Jeff McElfresh, Trellix CEO Bryan Palma, T-Mobile President-Technology Neville Ray and Rapid7 CEO Corey Thomas.