Gigi Sohn

Gigi Sohn’s nomination to fill a vacant Democratic seat at the Federal Communications Commission is facing some political headwinds according to some Washington insiders. The Senate Commerce Committee has announced it will hold a confirmation hearing next Wednesday (Nov. 17) on President Biden’s nomination of Jessica Rosenworcel to lead the FCC. But the Senate committee will not review Sohn’s. Congressional staffers say a hearing on Sohn is still planned by year-end, but Sohn’s pick has drawn criticism from some Senate Republicans.

“Gigi Sohn is a complete political ideologue who has disdain for conservatives. She would be a complete nightmare for the country when it comes to regulating the public airwaves,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “I will do everything in my power to convince colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reject this extreme nominee,” he pledged in a series of posts on Twitter.

Sohn is a veteran of Washington telecommunications policy and worked as a senior advisor to former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler. She earlier cofounded the public interest group Public Knowledge. Sohn had been a top pick among progressives for the chairmanship. She would become the first openly LGBTIQ+ commissioner, the White House said.

But while some see her resume as qualifications for why she should be given the FCC post, others are digging into that long record for clues to how she might serve – and why her nomination should be derailed. That includes a 2018 statement of support for the FCC decision blocking Sinclair Broadcast Group’s purchase of Tribune Media. “Today is a good day for every American who believes that diversity of voices in the media is better for our democracy,” she said.

Sohn also complained in the past that former FCC Chair Ajit Pai – a favorite among many in radio– was too cozy with broadcasters, saying in 2017 that Pai “assiduously courted” the radio and TV industries.

Because Acting Chair Rosenworcel’s term is set to expire at year-end, Senate Democrats are racing to complete her confirmation in order to prevent the Republicans from gaining a two-one majority on the Commission. If she clears the process, it would still leave the FCC with a 2-2 deadlock, hamstringing the Biden administration’s ability to make some moves such as reinstating net neutrality regulations.

But Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SC) said their objections are not about bogging down the FCC, but rather policy disputes.

“She’s very left, she’s going to be a heavy hand in regulation, very heavy in net neutrality,” Thune told Politico, adding, “She’s going to be very much, I think, Big Government stepping on the scales.”

Key to Sohn’s vote may depend on which way Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) go, and neither has commented publicly so far.

Rosenworcel – a former congressional staffer – is seen much more as a centrist and her previous policy splits with Sohn may be working in her favor on Capitol Hill. Rosenworcel was previously approved on a bipartisan basis in 2017, and was unanimously approved by the Senate in 2012.

Once the new Commission takes shape, broadcast attorney David Oxenford says broadcast-related issues will be waiting for them. They include updating the local radio and television ownership rules, a proposal to allow FMs to use zoned geo-targeted signals, and the creation of a Class C4 of FMs, as well as a decision on collecting race and ethnicity info on station employees through a revival of the requirement that stations submit annual Form 395 ownership reports. Oxenford notes in a blog post that new rules governing political advertising may also come up ahead of the 2022 federal election cycle.