Obama Nominates GOP Commissioner for FCC

O'Rielly likely to be paired with Wheeler for full Senate approval

At no surprise to anyone in Washington, President Obama today named longtime GOP congressional staffer Michael O'Rielly to be the next commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

O'Rielly, a top telecom policy aide to Senate minority whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), will fill out the remaining term of commissioner Robert McDowell, who left the agency earlier this year. His term expires June 30, 2014.

Because Congress is going on its August break, it will be September before the Senate Commerce Committee can hold a nomination hearing. Once that happens, O'Rielly's nomination can be paired with Tom Wheeler, the Democratic nominee for FCC chairman, for approval by the full Senate.

The Senate Commerce Committee voted in favor of Wheeler's nomination earlier this week. During that vote, GOP members let it be known that they preferred the two nominations be paired for full Senate consideration. 

In all likelihood, both nominations will receive Senate approval, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he might put a hold on the vote unless he gets a stronger commitment from Wheeler that he doesn't intend to expand the FCC's regulatory authority over political advertising disclosures. Another GOP member, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), also wanted more clarity from Wheeler about his position on broadcast indecency.

Since May, the FCC has been operating with only three commissioners under acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn with a 2-1 Democratic majority. Clyburn has been moving business along at the FCC, but the agency faces some of its biggest challenges yet (such as preparing and conducting a complicated auction of broadcast spectrum) and could use all hands on deck.