On Wednesday, the Senate today voted 49-46 to confirm Nathan Simington to a five-year term at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Simington is a proponent of repealing Section 230, a clause within the 1996 Telecommunications Act that protects internet companies from liability on account of their users. His main telecom experience is with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the Commerce Department that serves as the president’s main advisor on telecommunications policy. In September, it came out that Simington had edited a petition the NTIA had sent to the FCC asking the agency to reinterpret Section 230. The petition came after President Trump signed his social media executive order this past May.
President Trump nominated Simington after abruptly withdrawing the renomination of Mike O’Rielly. The move came after the Republican commissioner made a speech in which he said he opposed changes to Section 230. During his confirmation hearing, Simington acknowledged he had played a part in editing the NITA’s petition.
“Nathan Simington is the wrong person, and clearly the wrong person at the wrong time for the FCC,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) in the lead-up to today’s vote. “This nomination is dangerous because it threatens the integrity and political independence of the FCC.”
As Motherboard notes, the fear is that Republicans will use Simington’s confirmation to mire the agency in gridlock. By law, the party that wins the presidential election appoints the head of the agency. But if the Senate doesn’t hold confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden’s pick in the new year, the FCC will be split two to two along party lines once current Chairman Ajit Pai steps down on January 20th. Then, when the term of Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel ends late next year, there’s the additional possibility Republicans could enter 2022 with a two to one majority at the agency. Whether things play out this way will depend on how the Georgia Senate runoff plays out in January. If Democrats win both available seats, they’ll be able to appoint the candidates they see fit.