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Sept. FTC Confirmation Hearing

Action on FCC Nominee Gomez, Spectrum Bill, AM Radio Mandate Possible Next Week

Capitol Hill may be on course to tackle a trifecta of major FCC and communications policy matters during the final week before Congress begins the month-plus August recess, including Senate floor votes on Democratic commission nominee Anna Gomez, but lawmakers cautioned Thursday afternoon that action on those issues remained uncertain. Senate Democrats were urging Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to file cloture on Gomez in hopes of setting up floor votes next week on the nominee, whose confirmation would bring the FCC to a 3-2 Democratic majority more than two years into President Joe Biden’s term.

House leaders are considering floor action on the Spectrum Auction Reauthorization Act (HR-3565), while the Senate Commerce Committee is eyeing a potential markup of the AM Radio for Every Vehicle Act (S-1669), lawmakers and lobbyists said in interviews. The House Commerce Committee-approved HR-3565 mirrors major parts of the spectrum legislative package telecom-focused lawmakers proposed in December (see 2212190069), including language to allocate some future auction proceeds to the FCC’s Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program. S-1669 and House companion HR-3413 would mandate automakers include AM radio technology in future vehicles.

Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., confirmed she and other Democrats signed a cloture petition on Gomez and other nominees but said whether Schumer decides to invoke cloture on the Democratic FCC nominee was still uncertain. The floor agenda right now is “all about” the FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (S-2226), so it’s unclear whether votes on executive branch nominees “actually happen, but we’ve told” Schumer “we want to move” on Gomez, and renominated FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks, Cantwell told us. “It just takes 50” votes to confirm a nominee with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker.

We’ll have” Senate Commerce’s confirmation hearing on Republican FTC nominees Andrew Ferguson and Melissa Holyoak (see 2307110048) “in September,” after Congress returns from its upcoming August recess, Cantwell said. That would appear to quell, for now, GOP senators’ proposal to pair either Gomez or Starks with the FTC nominees for confirmation, lobbyists said.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told us he doubted Schumer would have the time available to move on Gomez or other nominees absent unanimous consent “with the NDAA being on the floor all next week.” Several Republican senators objected to moving Gomez and Starks by UC when Schumer ran a hotline on the FCC trio last week (see 2307180073) and there’s been no movement on that in the days since, lobbyists said. Thune, who’s also Communications Subcommittee ranking member, believes it’s “still an open question” whether potential FCC-FTC pairings are totally off the table. “I can’t imagine that they’re going to be able to hotline somebody like” Gomez amid the pre-recess rush, he said.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told reporters after the commission’s Thursday meeting she does “not have a crystal ball to tell you what the future holds” for the timing of Senate confirmation of Carr, Gomez and Starks, “but hopefully we will have” a full five-member complement on the commission “sooner rather than later.”

Legislative Action?

Cantwell confirmed S-1669 will be “on the next markup” session Senate Commerce holds but cautioned there’s no guarantee that will happen next week. The panel would have to notice the markup by Thursday night if it wants to hold it next week, but no such announcement happened as of that afternoon. The next meeting could also feature a rescheduled vote on the FAA Reauthorization Act (S-1939) after Cantwell and other panel leaders postponed consideration in June, lobbyists said.

Cantwell downplayed House Commerce members’ misgivings about HR-3413/S-1669 (see 2306060088), saying she doesn’t believe Congress would be unjustified in mandating automakers keep AM radio capability in future vehicles. “Keeping AM radios in cars remains vital” for consumers, not just for broadcasting emergency alerts but also for a broad swath of other “important information” and local news, she said.

S-1669 co-sponsor and Senate Commerce ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, didn’t address House Commerce leaders’ opposition to the bill but said he anticipates “a big bipartisan vote” to advance it through his panel. Cruz’s office held a briefing on S-1669 for Senate Commerce aides during the last recess that committee leaders believe can serve in place of a full-fledged hearing like the one the House Communications Subcommittee held in early June (see 2306050075), lobbyists said.

House Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., told us she’s pushing chamber GOP leaders to include HR-3565 on the floor agenda for next week but said “you’ll have to ask them” about their appetite for advancing the measure before the recess. The offices of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., didn’t comment. The House previously passed a bill in February to temporarily renew the FCC’s auction authority (HR-1108), but the mandate expired in early March after Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., objected to passing it in the Senate via UC (see 2303090074).

Cantwell said she aims to move HR-3565 through Senate Commerce “as quick as possible” if the House passes it, noting that “we’ve been in consultation” with House Commerce about HR-3565 since before the committee advanced it in late May (see 2305240069). Lobbyists and other observers have been hearing rumblings recently about potential House floor action on HR-3565 before the August recess in part aimed at building pressure for Cruz to drop his objections to the measure. Cruz has cited some of the priorities HR-3565 proposes funding using a portion of future spectrum sales revenue (see 2306130040).

I’m hoping we” can get HR-3565 through the House before the recess, given it’s already been more than four months since the FCC’s remit lapsed, said House Communications Chairman Bob Latta, R-Ohio. “We’ve got to get it done,” because in “every meeting I’ve been in outside of the Hill” it has become clear “we’re falling farther and farther behind” other countries on wireless leadership.