Senate Commerce Votes to Approve Tom Wheeler as Next FCC Chairman

Full Senate approval could take a couple more months

Telecom vet and Obama loyalist Tom Wheeler has passed the first hurdle on his way to becoming the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. In a voice vote, the Senate Commerce committee voted in favor of the president's nominee to lead the agency.

The vote came despite push back from ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) and several other GOP members that the committee should wait to move the nomination until it was paired with the GOP nominee, which President Obama has yet to name.

Pairing is a common practice for nominees, but the powerful chairman of the committee would have none of it. "I know some believe we should wait to vote until there is a Republican nominee. We don't pair on this committee," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said. "If they want to pair it on the floor, that's between minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)."

Although Wheeler, who appeared before the committee last month, is expected to win Senate approval, his nomination isn't likely to get to the floor without being paired with a GOP nominee.

"Though I intend to support [Wheeler's] nomination, I expect the floor to wait," Thune said.

Two other GOP senators have questions on other issues. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wants more clarity from Wheeler on broadcast indecency, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked Wheeler for his position on the Disclose Act, a bill that would require political groups to dislose their financial backers.

President Obama is said to be close to naming a GOP nominee, maybe even as soon as this week. Chatter in Washington is that the leading contender for the GOP spot is Michael O'Reilly, a telecommunications policy staffer for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Still, with only three days left until the August recess, it won't be until Congress returns in September that the Senate Commerce committee can hold a hearing for the GOP nominee first, before the pair goes to the floor. In the meantime, the FCC will continue to operate with three commissioners, headed by acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. 

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