Senate confirms Jessica Rosenworcel as first permanent female Chair of FCC

The Acting FCC Chair wins confirmation for her first full term as head of the telecom regulator, but Biden's agenda hangs in the balance as his choice to fill the final Commissioner's seat faces stiffer headwinds.

The US Senate confirmed acting Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Jessica Rosenworcel as the first female to fill the role on a permanent basis. 

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Rosenworcel served as an FCC Commissioner between 2012 and January 2021, when she was chosen by then recently inaugurated President Joe Biden to fulfill the role on an interim basis. The Democrat replaced controversial Republican Chair Ajit Pai. The departing head of the agency's term in office was defined by his successful but extremely unpopular effort to repeal US federal net neutrality protections, as well as accusations that he was negligent in fulfilling the FCC's duty to proliferate broadband across the US.  

President Biden made his interim choice for an official nominee in October. The new Chair called the selection the "honor of a lifetime" at that time and related a similar sentiment in the acceptance statement she published after the 68-31 vote came down in her favor. The ratio of yeas to nays indicates strong support, even among Republicans who had enjoyed a 3-2 majority in the FCC leadership during the entirety of Pai's term. 

Rosenworcel thanked the President for the opportunity and promised "people across the country" that she will "support the connections they need for work, learning, healthcare, and access to the information we require to make decisions about our lives, our communities, and our country." She closed her statement by committing to making "modern communications a reality for everyone, everywhere." It's hard not to see the new Chair's choice of words as a direct rebuttal of her predecessor's highly problematic record on rural broadband proliferation

With Rosenworcel's position secure for her first full term, the Biden administration's attention now shifts to Gigi Sohn. The former FCC staff member was the President's choice to replace departing Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly. If confirmed, the agency would once again flip to a Democratic majority. The FCC's leadership has always followed the sitting president in this regard, with whichever party sits in the Oval Office enjoying a majority at the FCC thanks to its traditional affiliation with two of the four sitting Commissioners and the current Chair. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this norm is being challenged in the current political landscape. Several Senate Republicans have made it clear that they plan to oppose Sohn's confirmation, including Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who promised to do "everything in his power" to block the nomination, and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who attacked several of the nominee's comments about conservative-leaning Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group. 

Oddly enough, Charles Herring, President of the extremely right-leaning One America News Network, has actually endorsed Sohn as a pick, claiming to have "fought in the trenches side-by-side with Gigi Sohn for a number of years on multiple issues." Unlike Cruz and Graham, who believe Sohn will censor conservative viewpoints, Herring sees the nominee as an advocate for diversity in programming and a proponent of "the First Amendment and the advantages of a strong and open media for the benefit of our democracy." 

Should Sohn ultimately join the FCC leadership, she would not only end the 2-2 deadlock that has existed since Joe Biden took office but would also make some history of her own by becoming the first openly LGBTQ+ individual confirmed as a permanent Commissioner.  

Whether Sohn fills the last vacant slot or someone else does, little progress is likely to be made on restoring federal net neutrality protections until the aforementioned deadlock is broken. 

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