The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Nathan Simington, a Trump appointee who has been described as a “social media bias hawk,” to a seat on the Federal Communications Commission. Simington, formerly an adviser to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is reportedly the author of President Trump’s executive order earlier this year barring social media companies from “censoring or any political conduct,” Variety reported.
The confirmation vote was 49-46, along party lines.
Ajit Pai, the current FCC chairman, has announced that he will step down on January 20, which would leave the commission with a 2-2 deadlock between the two parties at the start of the Biden presidency.
According to Politico if Republicans retain a Senate majority following the two Georgia runoffs in early January, they could prevent President Joseph Biden from appointing an FCC chairman or achieving a majority on the commission. This could prevent the incoming Biden Administration from carrying out its planned tech agenda, which is expected to include the return of Obama-era net neutrality rules, a stop to the Trump-era war on Section 230, and broadband rules aimed to help the poor.
Traditionally, the five-member FCC consists of three members of the current president’s party, including the chairman, along with two commissioners of the opposite party. Jessica Rosenworcel, a longtime Democratic commissioner on the FCC, has been most often mentioned as Biden’s choice to chair the FCC. Rosenworcel’s own term as a commissioner, however, expires at the end of 2021.
“The FCC will be gridlocked, which means it will fail to protect consumers,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a speech Tuesday, per Politico. “They’re breaking the norms.”
The seat that will be filled by Simington is currently held by Mike O’Rielly, a commissioner who had originally been nominated for another term but had that nomination pulled after O’Rielly criticized the Trump Administration’s anti-Section 230 push, on First Amendment grounds.
More recently, President Trump has threatened to veto the “must-pass” National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), unless it includes language repealing Section 230.
“The sole purpose in this case is to throw sand in the gears of the agency and prevent it from getting to work restoring net neutrality and ensuring people have Internet access in the middle of a public health crisis that has forced millions to work and attend school remotely,” the digital rights group Fight For the Future said in a statement following the Simington confirmation vote.
“Every single Senator who voted to confirm Nathan Simington betrayed their constituents and their oath to uphold the Constitution,” Evan Greer, the group’s Deputy Director, added in the statement.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.