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FCC Nominee Sohn To Go Before Senate Committee For Second Time (2)

Feb. 2, 2022, 4:01 PMUpdated: Feb. 2, 2022, 8:58 PM

Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn will appear before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for a second confirmation hearing Feb. 9, a panel spokesperson said.

The evenly divided committee was scheduled to vote on Sohn’s nomination Wednesday despite GOP opposition, but the vote was derailed because of Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján’s absence. Committee chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is not confident any Republican will vote for Sohn in the committee.

“Everybody has a right to review the nominees, they have the right to give the president their opinion, they have the right to give whatever concerns they have but I think we have some very solid nominees that have been held up just on party line votes, and with Senator Luján out that will make it more challenging until he returns,” Cantwell said.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the committee’s ranking member, had called for a second hearing on Sohn, whom President Joe Biden initially nominated last year. Wicker is questioning Sohn’s ties to Locast, a defunct nonprofit that was found to have illegally streamed programming.

Sohn’s pledge to temporarily recuse from a narrow set of broadcast issues if confirmed is further grounds for a second hearing, Wicker said.

The FCC, which is split 2-2 along party lines, is unable to act on Democratic priorities, including a reinstatement of net neutrality rules for broadband providers, until the Senate confirms a fifth member.

Cantwell said the second hearing is a chance for further discussion on information that is new for some Democrats.

“Even our members today asked me ‘oh she didn’t have this recusal before.’ There’s just a lot of information, people want to catch up,” Cantwell said.

In a letter to the FCC’s acting general counsel last week, Sohn agreed to recuse herself from matters involving retransmission consent or television broadcast copyright for the first three years of her term.

The recusal appeased the National Association of Broadcasters, which had also questioned Sohn’s tenure as a Locast board member.

Wicker, however, said the recusal raises even more questions. A confidential settlement between Locast and the group of broadcasters who sued raises concerns over Sohn’s potential future liability, Wicker says. Wicker also has said the timing of her signature — a day after Biden publicly announced her nomination — is a red flag.

Cantwell declined to comment on the confidential settlement.

(Updated with hearing date.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Curi at mcuri@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com