On Tuesday, the Senate voted to confirm the controversial nomination of Republican Nathan Simington to the Federal Communications Commission, despite pleas from Democrats and advocacy groups to hold off on a vote until next year.
By confirming Simington, the Republican-led Senate will be handing the incoming Joe Biden administration a deadlocked FCC. In November, current FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced that he would be stepping down from the agency once Biden is inaugurated, leaving the incoming administration with two Republicans, two Democrats, and no voting majority. If a Republican-led Senate refuses to confirm Biden’s choice for a replacement, it could bring the commission to a standstill.
This threat of gridlock paired with concerns over Simington’s qualifications for the job prompted Democrats and advocacy groups to oppose the nomination. In a virtual protest event, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said, “Nathan Simington is a deeply dangerous nominee to the FCC.” He continued, “Simington has proven himself an adversary, not an advocate for online access. He is conflicted, unprepared, and unqualified.”
Blumenthal was joined by groups like Public Knowledge, Fight for the Future, and MediaJustice on Monday.
The Verge first reported in September that Simington was in talks to become President Donald Trump’s next nominee to the FCC. The nomination followed the president’s abrupt withdrawal of Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s renomination after O’Rielly made remarks opposing changes to Section 230. Several months earlier, Trump had signed an executive order prompting the FCC to reinterpret Section 230 shortly after Twitter moved to fact-check one of his tweets for the first time.
It’s unclear how large of a role Simington played in drafting a government petition to the FCC requesting changes to Section 230, but the Republican confirmed in a hearing earlier this year that he at least “edited” it. Last week, Blumenthal said Simington was not forthright in his answers to the committee regarding his role in drafting the petition. Blumenthal cited answers Simington provided after his confirmation hearing, suggesting that he “sought to enlist Fox News” to help push the FCC to reinterpret Section 230 as requested in the government’s petition.
In October, Pai said that the agency would move forward on Trump’s executive order seeking to regulate social media companies. It’s unclear how the agency plans to move forward on rulemaking.
“With the right leadership the FCC can be a tremendous force for improving American lives and getting the economy back on track,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said Monday. “Unfortunately, Nathan Simington’s only qualification for this job is following Donald Trump’s orders to turn the FCC into government speech police.”