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June Hearing?

FCC Nominee Gomez Faces Easier Confirmation Process in Pairing With Carr, Starks

President Joe Biden’s decision to simultaneously announce his intended pick Monday of former NTIA acting Administrator Anna Gomez to the long-vacant fifth FCC seat and his renomination of sitting Commissioners Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks, as expected (see 2305180067 and 2305220020), is likely to speed Senate confirmation for all three candidates, said congressional officials and communications policy observers in interviews. There’s not a hard timeline for Senate consideration of the trio, but a Commerce Committee confirmation hearing is likely sometime in June and some stakeholders said they will push the chamber to approve all three before the start of the August recess.

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Advocates who have criticized the Biden administration and the Senate for failing to get the FCC to a 3-2 Democratic majority for more than two years breathed the heaviest sigh of relief Monday that the White House moved to pick Gomez for the commission vacancy. They echoed earlier assessments that Gomez would be likely to satisfy Democratic telecom policy priorities while not facing the same degree of criticism from Republicans and even some Democrats that surrounded former FCC nominee Gigi Sohn (see 2305020001). Sohn asked Biden to withdraw her from consideration in early March (see 2303070082); the administration formally ended her nomination on March 30.

Others noted the trio’s confirmation would give the FCC long-term stability after two years in which the commission has been in a continuous 2-2 tie, mostly while Sohn's nomination hung in the air. Confirmation uncertainties have even raised questions about how the body would function if it shifted to a 2-1 Republican majority with a Democratic chair (see 2110080046) since Democrat Starks’ term ended June 30, 2022, and he will have to leave the FCC by Jan. 3, 2024, absent reapproval. Carr’s term ends June 30, and he will have to leave the commission by Jan. 3, 2025, without reconfirmation.

Several lobbyists on FCC issues noted the Gomez nomination could raise some questions because of her ties to the Wiley law firm, which has clients in almost all segments of the communications industry. One lawyer noted the Senate no longer bundles nominees and each will have to get a vote separately. That makes it “more precarious” for Gomez, while “Carr and Starks are safer bets," the lawyer said.

I thank President Biden for this honor,” Gomez said on LinkedIn and Twitter. “I am humbled and grateful. If confirmed, I look forward to working with” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel “and my fellow Commissioners to bring the benefits of modern communications to all.” Rosenworcel, Carr and Starks all praised Gomez’s nomination, which is the norm.

Carr cited Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as the force behind his renomination. “If reconfirmed, I would welcome the chance to continue working with my FCC colleagues and the agency’s talented staff on policies that will promote public safety, protect consumers, and encourage the build out and adoption of secure, high-speed networks,” Carr said.

Sitting on the” FCC has been the privilege of my career, and I look forward to continuing to serve the American people if reconfirmed,” Starks said. Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and the Congressional Black Caucus were among those recommending Biden renominate the commissioner (see 2303100050).

Summer Timeline

Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., wasn’t certain about the confirmation timeline before the Monday announcement due to continued uncertainty about when a nomination would happen. Even if “they announced on Monday, usually it takes us a little time to go through that nomination paperwork, so I would doubt” the panel would be able to schedule a confirmation hearing even on just a single FCC nominee before the end of May, she said in a Thursday interview. The Senate is on recess this week but is to return May 30, so a May 31 hearing is theoretically possible, but that “seems a little too optimistic” even if the chamber were to return early to vote on a debt ceiling deal. A June hearing date is far more likely, Cantwell said.

Hopefully the Senate can move quickly” on Gomez since the intent is to package her with Carr and Starks, Public Knowledge Government Affairs Director Greg Guice said. Keeping the trio together in the confirmation process “should help with that because then everybody is invested” in not allowing snags to develop, he said. Carr and Starks “are just renominations, so they should be easy enough to move and that can help accelerate consideration for” Gomez, Guice told us. A June hearing would “get that part over with” and potentially give Senate Commerce an opportunity to advance the nominees to the floor before the chamber’s scheduled June 26-July 7 recess. Senate leaders should “at minimum” be focusing on confirming all three nominees before the chamber begins its longer August recess, he said. The Senate is scheduled to be in session for 30 legislative days between now and when the August recess begins.

I don't think we will see the Democratic majority soon, but that has nothing to do with” Gomez, said New Street’s Blair Levin. Levin said Gomez is noncontroversial and the Senate should be able to easily confirm her. “Any difficulties will likely relate to external factors” such as Hill schedules, he said.

One can only hope that” Gomez’s nomination “will signal some semblance of a return to normalcy when it comes to agency (not just the FCC) commissioner picks,” emailed TechFreedom General Counsel Jim Dunstan. “Normalcy in that the administration fully vets the candidates it puts forward to make sure there aren't a ton of questionable tweets floating around.” It also means “the minority in the Senate allows the [White House] to pick who they want to be a commissioner, especially when it comes to a pick from their own party,” he said.

Widespread Praise

David Gross, a former top State Department telecom official under President George W. Bush who worked with Gomez at Wiley, was among others strongly praising her nomination Monday. “She’s got a background that’s perfect for the job” given her past roles at the FCC, NTIA, in industry and “now with State” in her appointment to lead U.S. preparations for the upcoming Nov. 20-Dec. 15 World Radiocommunication Conference, Gross told us.

Gomez is “a solid choice,” said Shane Tews, American Enterprise Institute nonresident senior fellow. “She knows the industry and how important this moment is for investing in the infrastructure and the need for a spectrum strategy for our future.” University of Minnesota media law professor Christopher Terry was a rare critic, saying in a Monday interview Gomez is a disappointing choice because she's unlikely to shake up "the status quo" given her past Wiley role. Preston Padden, an outspoken critic of how the Senate handled the Sohn nomination (see 2303130001), said “the miracle is” how “four commissioners have accomplished so much despite a 2-2 split.”

Gomez notably drew praise or outright endorsements from entities seen as critics of Sohn. Gomez’s “deep knowledge across the breadth of issues before the FCC makes her exceptionally qualified to be a Commissioner,” said Comcast Chief Legal Officer Tom Reid. “Ms. Gomez can bring her demonstrated ability to work with industry, manufacturers and consumers to help ensure a smooth and expeditious transition for millions of Americans” to Next Gen TV, said NAB President Curtis LeGeyt. NAB didn't oppose Sohn’s confirmation but raised concerns about her affiliation with streaming service Locast (see 2202100056).

Gomez “has consistently demonstrated her ability to build consensus and navigate intricate policy landscapes to the benefit of all stakeholders,” said CTIA President Meredith Baker. The nominee “knows the issues and the policymaking process as well as anyone in Washington and has the respect of everyone she works with,” emailed Wireless Infrastructure Association President Patrick Halley.

Public interest groups also applauded the nominations. “For too long, we have been without a full roster of FCC commissioners as industry lobbyists and their Republican allies in the Senate delayed and obstructed President Biden’s nominee,” said the Communications Workers of America. “This must not happen again.” Gomez “has a long track record of public service” and is “eminently qualified for this role at the FCC,” said Free Press co-CEO Jessica Gonzalez. The National Hispanic Media Coalition hailed Gomez as potentially the first Latino community member on the commission since former Commissioner Gloria Tristani left in September 2001 (see 0109110015).