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Cantwell: Nomination 'Rumblings'

Biden Seen Close to Naming New FCC Pick; Gomez Tipped as Heavy Favorite

The White House appears very close to announcing its nominee for the vacant third Democratic FCC seat, with former acting NTIA Administrator Anna Gomez, ex-Wiley, the prohibitive favorite to get the nod, congressional officials and communications policy lobbyists said in interviews. Gomez, if nominated, would be President Joe Biden's second pick for the seat former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai vacated in early 2021. Previous candidate Gigi Sohn asked Biden in March to withdraw her name after her often-contentious Senate confirmation process repeatedly stalled (see 2303070082). Biden formally withdrew Sohn’s nomination March 30 (see 2303300048).

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Several congressional officials said they expect the Biden administration to announce a new FCC nominee this week or next, cautioning that no Biden administration selection is final until an announcement happens and there have been false starts in the past. Some lobbyists noted they previously expected a late April announcement that failed to happen. Gomez, who already had momentum last month over other contenders for the FCC nomination (see 2304110074), gained a stronger advantage over the past three weeks because rampant chatter about her prospects didn't cause any negative pushback, officials and lobbyists said. The White House and Gomez didn't comment.

"We've heard some rumblings that some names might be coming our way" soon, said Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. The White House hasn’t indicated to her yet who Biden has in mind for the nomination, but Gomez’s name “has circulated” as a notable contender. “I’d be looking to move” whoever Biden nominates “as soon as I could,” but it’s hard to know whether a May confirmation hearing would be possible without knowing what day the administration will announce a nomination or transmit it to the Senate, Cantwell said. She and Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., both confirmed to us they haven’t recommended any candidates to the White House.

Gomez “is a strong candidate” who's “clearly qualified” to be an FCC commissioner, “but I’ve not heard any confirmation or word from the White House” that she or anyone else will be Biden’s nominee, Lujan told us. “There are many great candidates” for the FCC vacancy “and we’ll see what the White House ultimately does.” Other prominent Latino lawmakers also haven't recommended specific FCC candidates to the White House but are urging Biden to nominate a member of the community to the commission (see 2303230069).

Gomez “is definitely among the well-qualified women that we’ve looked at and are talking to” as a candidate for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ endorsement, Chair Rep. Nanette Barragan, D-Calif., told us last week. The chamber is on a weeklong recess, returning May 9. CHC is “talking to candidates behind the scenes but aren’t looking to publicly get a name out right now because we don’t think it’s beneficial for us to do that,” Barragan said. CHC was known to be considering other potential candidates along with Gomez (see 2303130001).

We are very much supportive of making sure that the administration appoints a Latino or Latina” to the FCC vacancy, Barragan said. “It’s really long overdue given that it’s been over two decades” since the last community member on the commission, Gloria Tristani, left in September 2001 (see 0109110015). “I personally talked to” Biden “about this a couple of weeks ago when I was at the White House," she said: “We’ve had a very positive response so far” from the administration, “so were going to continue to push on that.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told us he’s interested in the administration nominating someone to the FCC vacancy who will make the commission a more diverse and pro-diversity body. “The White House has several candidates” for the open seat “who are diverse, so I hope they will choose one of them,” he said. “Those who are already on the FCC and who might be seeking future reappointment have to consider what they’re doing” with the commission’s review of the Standard General/Tegna deal, Menendez said. He was referencing comments he made last week that he wouldn’t support FCC nominees who don’t support allowing the purchase to proceed amid an ongoing legal challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (see 2304260066).

It’s abysmal that 3%” of media ownership in the U.S. “comes from minority communities,” Menendez said. “You can’t keep saying ‘we’ve got to do better’ and then when you have chances to do better, you pump the breaks. At some point they have to be held responsible for the lack of media ownership diversity.” His comments point to the FCC’s Standard/Tegna review outcome potentially affecting whether he will support Biden’s nominee for the vacant commission seat and the reconfirmation of sitting Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, the only FCC member who hasn’t publicly weighed in on the issue, lobbyists said. Starks’ term ended June 30, and he will have to leave the commission no later than Jan. 3 absent reconfirmation.