President Donald Trump urged the Senate to confirm Nathan Simington as a member of theFederal Communications Commission, where he could supply a vote needed to advance the president’s efforts to rein in social media companies.
Simington has drawn opposition from Democrats critical of Trump’s emerging social media policy, and luke-warm support from some Republicans, casting doubt he could be confirmed during the brief, crowded post-election legislative session.
Trump ina tweet before Simington’s confirmation hearing Tuesday called for “action NOW on this very important nomination!!”
Simington is a senior adviser at the Commerce Department arm that drafted policy to expose the likes ofFacebook Inc. andTwitter Inc. to greater legal liability for blocking or labeling some users’ posts. Republicans say the effort would bring balance to social media, and Democrats call it a bid to censor online speech.
The policy awaits action at the FCC, where Chairman Ajit Pai has said he intends to move forward.
There may not be enough time to bring Simington on board before control of the FCC flips to Democrats as Joe Biden takes office in January.
If Simington wins swift confirmation, he could be seated almost immediately and provide a third vote needed by Pai at the five-member agency. Simington would replace Republican Michael O’Rielly, whose nomination for another term was withdrawn by the White House after he criticized Trump’s social media policy.
Pai last month said he intends to move forward with a rulemaking on social media liability.
Pai would need to disregard normal FCC procedures in order to issue a social-media order that relies in part on Simington’s vote before the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration, said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a Washington communications attorney.
“It’s highly improbable, unless they are going to do drastic departures from regular order in a way that would be politically very costly” by inciting hostility from lawmakers, Schwartzman said in an interview.
If Simington’s nomination fails, the FCC likely would fall to a 2-to-2 partisan tie in the new year after O’Rielly leaves, his term having expired. That would bring policy making at the agency to a virtual halt as new members are selected.
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