Biden’s New Shot for Nominees

Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden's nominee to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in February 2022. (Photo by Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)

Several of President Biden’s nominees failed to advance in the evenly divided Senate during his first two years in office. With a slightly more favorable chamber—51 Democratic votes, when counting reliable independents—some of Biden’s most controversial nominees will get another shot at approval.

The dynamic comes into focus this week as the Senate once again weighs Gigi Sohn for a spot on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

Sohn’s first nomination, in 2021, stalled early as Republicans raised concerns over her past tweets describing Fox News as “dangerous to our democracy” and “state-sponsored propaganda.” She also retweeted someone else’s post that called former President Donald Trump a “raggedy white supremacist.” 

As of December, at least three Democratic senators were also reportedly hesitant to support her: Sens. Joe Manchin, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Mark Kelly. Biden renominated her in January, and we could find out soon if any have changed their stances. 

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is meeting this morning for Sohn’s third confirmation hearing since she was first nominated—the panel tried a hearing in 2021 and followed up with another in 2022. Consideration on the Senate floor could follow in the coming weeks. This time, with an extra Senate seat, Biden can lose support from one member and have Vice President Kamala Harris cast a deciding vote if all Republicans oppose Sohn. 

The vacancy has kept the five-seat FCC—which regulates communications by radio, television, and more across the country—evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. If confirmed, Sohn would be able to cast a tie-breaking vote to advance Democratic priorities that Republicans don’t support.

Sohn’s appointment would have far-reaching implications, including some that could increase compliance costs for companies. She is a former Democratic FCC staffer and co-founded a public policy group, Public Knowledge, that has advocated for free speech and an open internet. She has been a staunch supporter of net neutrality rules requiring providers to treat content evenly. Democrats want to see Obama-era net neutrality rules reinstated after the Trump administration rolled them back in 2018.

The FCC also has the authority to prevent major communications mergers, and it is playing a role in guiding expanded internet access under the bipartisan infrastructure bill that lawmakers approved in 2021.

Sohn appears ready to blame internet providers and other players in the communications sector that oppose her for stymying her advancement to the commission.

“I believe deeply that regulated entities should not choose their regulator,” she will say in today’s hearing, according to a version of her testimony obtained by Reuters on Monday. “Unfortunately, that is the exact intent of the past 15 months of false and misleading attacks on my record and my character.”

Senators Want Info on the UFO Mystery

The United States has shot down three unidentified objects since Friday—one over Alaska, another over Canada, and the most recent over Luke Huron, in Michigan.

Military officials haven’t been able to characterize how the objects—variously described as cylindrical and octagonal—stay in the air, nor what their purpose and origins are. 

Following these and the military’s downing of a Chinese spy balloon off the East Coast last week, senators want answers. This morning they heard from several military officials about the latest objects during a classified briefing.

Several Republicans leaving the briefing said they thought the administration had taken the right course in shooting down the objects. And Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said there isn’t any threat to the public.

Republicans are pressing for a full unclassified accounting of the situation.

“For the first time in 65 years, the United States has shot something down over our airspace,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the intelligence panel. “Not once, but four times. And three of those four things we have no idea what they are, and people deserve to know what they are.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also raised questions about the objects on Monday.

“Has the Biden administration just dialed the sensitivity of our radars all the way up?” he asked. “If so, what are these objects that we are just now noticing for the first time? Are they benign science projects and wayward weather balloons, or something more nefarious we’ve been missing all along? President Biden owes the American people some answers. What are we shooting down, and where did they come from?”

That’s Just Like, Your Opinion, Man

On the Floor

The House is out this week. The Senate is considering various nominations.

Key Hearings

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will meet Wednesday morning for a hearing on global security challenges. Information and livestream here.
  • Senators on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear from experts Thursday morning on how Russia’s war in Ukraine has affected energy security a year since the start of the war. Information and livestream here.
  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will meet Thursday morning to examine health care workforce shortages. Information and livestream here.
  • The Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing Thursday morning on trade policy, with witnesses set to testify about stopping forced labor and counterfeit goods from entering the United States. Information and livestream here

Of Note

Unidentified flying object debris search is hampered by weather, location

The United States’ terrestrial weekend

Republicans plot a comeback for earmarks—with a twist

Biden fires embattled architect of the Capitol, months after scathing report

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