Gomez Seen Gaining Momentum in FCC Nomination Sweepstakes
The White House is eyeing former acting NTIA Administrator Anna Gomez, ex-Wiley, and to a slightly lesser extent NASA Chief of Staff Susie Perez Quinn as the most viable potential candidates to replace ex-nominee Gigi Sohn as President Joe Biden’s pick fill the long-vacant third Democratic FCC seat, lobbyists and others said in interviews. Officials cautioned that the Biden administration is also looking at other potential candidates and several remained viable Tuesday, including Narda Jones, chief of staff to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
Communications policy officials are warily eyeing what they believe is a limited window for Biden to name a replacement nominee, with some believing the Senate may realistically have less than three months left to get a new contender through the confirmation process before 2024 electoral politics begins to seriously affect the chamber’s business. It’s been just over a month since Sohn announced she asked the Biden administration to remove her from contention (see 2303070082). Biden formally withdrew Sohn’s nomination March 30 (see 2303300048).
There has been a slight momentum shift in Gomez's favor in recent weeks, partially because her candidacy isn't drawing objections from liberal and public interest groups as many previously expected (see 2303100050). More than 60 groups wrote Biden soon after Sohn's withdrawal urging him to select a new nominee who's "free of industry conflicts of interest," while Free Press urged him not to pick a nominee who has “worked or lobbied in any capacity" in the past five years for FCC-regulated entities (see 2303080083).
Senate offices have been privately contacting stakeholders specifically about Gomez because of her experience at NTIA and as an official in the FCC’s Common Carrier and International bureaus, lobbyists said. She’s currently the State Department’s international information and communications policy adviser and is leading U.S. preparations for the next World Radiocommunication Conference (see 2301270060).
Some people still have concerns about Gomez's work on behalf of industry clients at Wiley but believe FCC and federal ethics officials can decide on any conflicts of interest if she joins the commission, officials said. Public interest entities want Gomez to go on record favoring reclassifying broadband as a Communications Act Title II service, which would align her with Rosenworcel and fellow Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, officials said. Pro-Title II advocates view broadband reclassification as a linchpin for future efforts to enact renewed net neutrality rules.
Gomez declined comment on whether the White House is actively vetting her for the FCC seat. “I really can’t talk to you about that,” she told us Tuesday. The White House didn’t comment.
The Biden administration believes Gomez and Quinn would have an advantage over other contenders because they have had more federal vetting in preparation for their current roles, which would help to accelerate the confirmation process, lobbyists said. The administration quietly looked at both as potential replacement nominees last year in case Sohn withdrew then (see 2209300062). Gomez has more experience in communications policymaking, but Quinn has a more built-in base of support within Senate Commerce because she was chief of staff to now-NASA Administrator Bill Nelson when he was Senate Commerce ranking member.
The White House is also mindful of pressure to increase the FCC’s diversity, officials said. Gomez and Quinn are members of the Latino community and have gotten repeated backing from some Hispanic groups. FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Chief Alejandro Roark and National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Chairman Felix Sanchez also got attention but concerns among some groups about both candidates’ past communications industry ties may hinder their chances.
Senate Commerce Committee Democratic leaders, including panel Chair Maria Cantwell of Washington and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, hadn’t made endorsements for the FCC seat by March 30, when Capitol Hill left on a two-week recess. Several potential contenders have congressional experience, including Jones, Quinn and Treasury Department Capital Projects Fund Director Joseph Wender. The lack of public endorsements by top leaders indicates jostling to replace Sohn is less of a race than has happened in the past, officials said.
“I don’t know what the White House is up to” in vetting new contenders for the FCC seat, Cantwell told us. “They haven’t reached out and I haven’t talked to them” about it since Sohn removed herself from contention, but she planned to check in with the administration during the recess on where the process stands. Cantwell confirmed “some people have mentioned” Jones, who was one of her aides 2014-2019, as a potential FCC nominee.
Cantwell emphasized she hasn’t endorsed anyone for the FCC seat but noted Jones has built on her past commission experience since returning as Rosenworcel’s chief of staff last year. Jones was White House Office of Science and Technology Policy legislative affairs director at the start of the Biden administration and was previously senior tech policy adviser and counsel to Senate Commerce Democrats. She held senior roles in the FCC’s International and Wireline bureaus during the Obama administration. That level of experience should make Jones a leading contender for a commission seat, but it’s unclear she wants the job right now, officials said.
Lujan and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., told us before the recess they still plan to give Biden recommendations for the FCC nomination but hadn’t done so yet. Markey spoke highly of Wender, who was one of the senator’s top aides before moving to Treasury in January 2022. Markey previously floated Wender as a contender for other FCC seats and to be NTIA administrator at the start of the Biden administration (see 2107090063). “Joey would be an excellent FCC commissioner,” Markey said: “He’s got the federal background and would be able to do an excellent job” at the commission.
There’s also been chatter about Alexandrine de Bianchi, a senior aide to Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., lobbyists said. They cautioned that Rosen may have hurt de Bianchi’s nomination prospects because her wavering on Sohn earlier this year (see 2302140077) played a role in torpedoing the ex-nominee’s confirmation. De Bianchi is a former RIAA federal government relations director and has experience at NTIA and as a House Communications Subcommittee Democratic aide.
Free Press Vice President-Policy Matt Wood and others emphasize the White House needs to quickly pick a new FCC nominee.
“We’ve been in conversations with folks we think are involved in making decisions within the administration and Senate” and potential nominees, but “I don’t think there were contingency plans in place” to move quickly on a new FCC nominee at the time Sohn pulled out, Wood said: “They had to basically start all over again,” so it’s not surprising there hasn’t been more progress a month later.
“There is a true urgency to getting” the fifth commissioner “nominated and through the confirmation process in advance of” the Senate’s recess around the time of the Independence Day holiday, said Public Knowledge Government Affairs Director Greg Guice. Beyond July 4 “we really start getting into a complicated congressional calendar” given expectations the 2024 presidential campaign’s politics will begin to seep into congressional activity during the last half of 2023. There are also “some extremely important proceedings that will require” a third Democratic commissioner’s vote by then, including the digital discrimination NPRM that’s going through the comments process (see 2303140059), he said.
A White House nomination announcement “probably won’t happen before May,” so an “optimistic projection of when you could confirm someone would be July,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Legislative Counsel Ernesto Falcon. It’s more realistic to expect confirmation in September given “the level of competition for Senate floor time” -- a looming fight over raising the U.S.’ debt ceiling, the 2023 farm bill, the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act and other priorities. Once Biden picks a nominee, Senate Commerce “needs to hold a hearing almost immediately afterward” and have a committee vote “as soon as possible” to make a July confirmation feasible, Falcon said.
Opponents “of a functional FCC were emboldened” when Sohn removed herself from consideration, Falcon said. “They will do everything they can to delay a new nominee well into next year, so Democratic leadership needs to recognize what is happening. This is about whether the Biden administration has a functional agenda before” the 2024 presidential election “and there are plenty of well-financed forces that are eager for the FCC to remain neutered for the foreseeable future.”