Is Federal Communications commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel making a play to become the next FCC chair? It's hard not to connect the political dots, based on a letter a majority of Senate Democrats sent President Obama recommending he select her for the job.
The first signature on the letter signed by 37 Democrats is none other than Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Rosenworcel's mentor and unabashed champion. Prior to joining the FCC last May, Rosenworcel served as Rockefeller's senior communications counsel for the commerce committee, which Rockefeller chairs. Seen as ambitious, aggressive and smart, Rosenworcel also comes with FCC staff experience.
"By choosing a sitting commissioner that has established bipartisan Senate support, you can quickly install a proven leader at this important agency," the Senators wrote. "That fact is particularly critical with the FCC in the middle of several significant rulemakings and other initiatives. By nominating commissioner Rosenworcel you could avoid possible delays created by other nominees and keep the agency moving forward."
Democrats began applying pressure on Obama to nominate Rosenworcel from practically the moment FCC chair Julius Genachowski announced he would step down from his post in the next few weeks. Though the Dem's letter leaked Wednesday, it is dated March 22, the same day Genachowski formally announced his exit.
But nominating Rosenworcel comes with its own complications. First, Obama would have to pass over senior FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who has served as a commissioner since 2009 and was recently sworn in for another term. Clyburn is also politically connected; her father is Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the third-ranking Dem in the House.
Naming either Rosenworcel or Clyburn, Obama would satisfy mounting pressure that he name the first woman chair of the FCC. But he could also name Karen Kornbluh, a former ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, who has served as a senior advisor to Obama since his 2008 campaign.
Or, Obama could ignore the pressure for a woman, and name a white guy, Tom Wheeler, a venture capitalist with a strong background in wireless and cable industries, who raised plenty of money for Obama's re-election campaign. Wheeler is said to be a favorite of chairman Genachowski.
So the letter from the Senate Dems complicates Obama's decision.
If Obama picks one of the two sitting Dem commissioners, he will still have to nominate two other commissioners, a Democrat and a GOP to replace commissioner Robert McDowell, who announced his exit just two days before Genachowski.
How quickly Obama will act is anyone's guess. But in Washington, it doesn't get any more fun than this.