FCC Nominees Say the Right Things at Hearing

Committee approval likely, but Grassley hold still looms

President Obama's two nominees to the Federal Communications Commission said all the right things to the members of the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing on their nominations Wednesday, earning strong praise from the committee.

Ajit Pai, the Republican nominee, and Jessica Rosenworcel, the Democrat, knew better than to dust it up with committee members who will be voting some time in the next couple of weeks to send their nominations to the floor.

Both former FCC and Senate staffers, Rosenworcel, the senior communications counsel for the committee under chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Pai, a partner with Jenner & Block, showed their hearing savvy. To Rockefeller, they promised to support an interoperable public safety network. To Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tex., who opposes the FCC's controversial net neutrality rules, they agreed to abide by the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court, which will decide if the rules are within the FCC's authority. Both nominees also agreed that the Communications Act and the Cable Act could use some updating. Both support incentive auctions. Neither thought the Fairness Doctrine should be resuscitated.

But there was nothing either Pai or Rosenworcel could say to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to sway him. Though Grassley is not a member of the committee and wasn't in the hearing room, he might as well have been. During the hearing, Grassley put out a statement reiterating his intent to put a hold on Senate action on the nominees unless he gets documents he requested from the FCC about its dealings with LightSquared.

"The FCC hasn't made any move to provide the information. As a result, my intention to place a hold on the FCC nominees, should they reach the floor, stands," Grassley said in the statement. 

Rockefeller has held talks with Grassley, but the Iowa Republican isn't budging, leaving the FCC in limbo.

The FCC has been short one commissioner since April, when Republican Meredith Attwell Baxter exited for Comcast/NBCUniversal. Commissioner Michael Copps (Rosenworcel's former boss at the FCC) will exit at the end of the year. If the nominees are held up into next year, the FCC will be left with only three commissioners as opposed to its usual five.