Could A Wheeler Waffle Run Rosenworcel Out?


A top GOP senator believes the fate of Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel isn’t necessarily up to Senate Republicans or Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Rather, it is FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler himself who is the deciding factor in whether or note the upper body of Congress holds a reconfirmation vote on Rosenworcel, whose term ended some 18 months ago and must pack her office by Inauguration Day if inaction persists.

That’s the opinion of Sen. John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee. In an interview with Inside-the-Beltway political blog Morning Consult, Capitol Hill eyes have turned away from Rosenworcel and toward Wheeler, as his decision on whether to stay on as a Commissioner directly impacts any opportunity for Rosenworcel to stay on.

Should Wheeler stay on, which is permissible, Rosenworcel would have to depart; Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s term is not up until February 2018, and with the incoming Trump administration a new Republican Chairman is set to take over for Wheeler.

Thus, it’s either Rosenworcel or Wheeler, and Thune says there is “no question” that Wheeler’s indecision is “a complicating factor. It’s an extenuating circumstance that I think bears on that progress.”

But, Thune believes the issue will be resolved quickly.

Republican senators have stalled Rosenworcel’s reconfirmation for some 7 months, but there has been a glimmer of home in that a reconfirmation could occur if Wheeler agreed to step down from the FCC.

With a Trump presidency just weeks away, could telecom bills held up because of the Rosenworcel reconfirmation see passage prior to Jan. 20?

Thune says yes, with a bill Thune sponsored that would increase wireless broadband availability likely to pass during the Obama administration so long as Rosenworcel’s reconfirmation hearing take place.

Rosenworcel is seen as the “swing vote” on the Commission, and Republicans may be willing to keep her on the FCC thanks to her unwillingness to vote for Wheeler’s set-top box proposal, which seems all but lost for the Chairman.

The ball is now in Wheeler’s court with respect to his future, and that of his colleague.