Gigi Sohn, the long-time public interest advocate who was nominated to be the fifth commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), defended herself against the “false” attacks that have been lobbed at her over the past several weeks during a hearing on Wednesday.
Sohn appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee for a second confirmation hearing on Wednesday. The hearing itself had already been blasted by advocacy groups as “senseless” and nothing more than another way for Republicans to attack her nomination.
While Republicans have attacked Sohn’s nomination from the day Biden announced it, she has drawn rave reviews from experts and almost 250 organizations and hundreds of thousands of people who signed online petitions supporting her. One advocacy group told the Daily Dot she was “historically one of the most qualified people to be nominated” to the FCC.
Since her first hearing last December—the committee never voted on her nomination, forcing Biden to re-nominate her for the role earlier this year—Republicans have settled on a line of attack. Led by the committee’s ranking member, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), they fixated on a settlement agreement signed by Locast, a service that allowed for people to stream over-the-air television that was sued by networks. Sohn served on the board of that non-profit.
Republicans brought up Locast several times during her first confirmation hearing and later in questions for the record that Sohn answered afterward.
On Wednesday, Wicker asked Sohn if she was being “evasive” in her answers regarding where the funds came from for the settlement, an accusation that she vehemently defended herself against.
Sohn explained that she was bound by a confidentiality agreement not to discuss the details of the settlement. Other Republicans, namely Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), insinuated the timing of the suit and its settlement was nefarious and tied to Sohn’s nomination, a charge she vehemently denied.
But the last-second focus on Locast, and her decision to voluntarily recuse herself from issues related to Locast and other matters of retransmissions, has led to “unrelenting, unfair, and outright false” attacks, Sohn said. She also said the attacks were an attempt by the telecom industry to try and derail her nomination.
Lobbyists told the Washington Examiner in December they hoped that Sohn’s nomination would be delayed because having a 2-2 deadlocked FCC stopped it from voting on a number of issues it doesn’t want to see happen, such as restoring net neutrality rules and the agency’s authority over broadband.
If confirmed, Sohn would be the third Democrat on the commission and give Democrats a majority to vote on matters that would require a party-line vote. The FCC has been in the partisan deadlock since Biden took office.
In her opening remarks, she directly called out the attacks directly.
“I realize this isn’t all about me. It’s about some wanting to stop the FCC from doing its important work ensuring everyone in American has robust broadband regardless of who they are, what their income is, or where they live, as mandated by the bipartisan infrastructure law,” Sohn said. “It’s about stopping the FCC from ensuring that the media’s diverse and serves the needs of local communities. It’s about stopping the FCC from ensuring that our networks are resilient when the next disaster hits, so that the public stays connected and safe. It’s about stopping the work that Congress, including all of you and your predecessors, have charged this important agency with doing.”
“A deadlocked agency helps nobody, save for a few huge corporations. But most importantly, it hurts the American people, who need the FCC to make hard decisions.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) agreed with Sohn in his round of questioning shortly after her opening remarks, commending her for “facing down these illusory innuendos and allegations.”
“You are absolutely right, the reason you are here is bigger than you. It’s part of an effort to deadlock, disarm, and disable the FCC,” the senator said.
Sohn also repeated it when questioned by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), saying that she was “certain very large companies … would like to see the FCC continue to be deadlocked” and that it was “no secret” that they’ve opposed her nomination.
Several Republicans also raised the question about whether she should recuse herself from other issues that she spoke up about while at Public Knowledge, a public interest group she co-founded.
Amid Republicans airing their grievances about Sohn’s connection with Locast, she agreed to a voluntary recusal to issues that may come up before the FCC regarding retransmission. In the recusal she also pointed to a petition for rulemaking to the FCC she signed while at Public Knowledge. The recusal led some Republicans to suggest that she should recuse herself from any matter that might come before the FCC that Public Knowledge weighed in on (essentially the entire FCC slate), something she vehemently pushed back on.
“As experts have noted, my recusal is voluntary, temporary, and extremely narrow and concerns business unlikely to come before the full FCC. But in now way does it open the door to every other industry seeking a recusal for every position I and Public Knowledge have ever advocated. Such a result would be perverse and would prohibit anyone—not just public interest advocates and academics—who has taken any public position on telecommunications and media policy from serving on the FCC,” Sohn said
It’s unclear when the Senate Commerce Committee will vote on Sohn’s nomination.
The committee is split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Given the Republican opposition to her nomination, it would mean all of the committee’s Democrats would need to vote to advance her nomination out of committee. However, Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) recently suffered a stroke. He is expected to make a full recovery.
Having a vote without Luján risks Sohn not getting the necessary votes to advance from the committee for a vote in the full Senate, meaning a vote won’t be held for the foreseeable future.
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