The new Democratic-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to redouble oversight of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and activities at the Commission, and leaders said today that broadband infrastructure, net neutrality, and privacy and security protections are among their priorities.
With yesterday’s mid-term elections delivering Democrats control of the House, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), the ranking member of the House Commerce Committee who is expected assume the chairmanship, is likely to turn his sights on the FCC, working with Rep. Mike Doyle (D., Pa.), the ranking member of the communications and technology subcommittee who is in line to become chairman of that panel.
“Last night’s election results were a big win for our nation and for the American people. In the coming days, I will be asking my Democratic colleagues for their support to lead our party as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee,” Mr. Pallone said in a statement today.
A news release said that Mr. Pallone “plans to have discussions with his Democratic colleagues about building upon the For the People agenda and putting forward proposals” that, among other things, (1) invest in broadband infrastructure; (2) “[p]rotect net neutrality”; and (3) “[p]rovide meaningful privacy and data security protections.”
In May, the Senate passed by a 52-47 vote a Congressional Review Act resolution disapproving of the FCC’s restoring Internet freedom order adopted last year (TR Daily, May 16). Mr. Doyle introduced a CRA resolution in the House.
“Last night was a big win for Americans around the country who have been demanding greater oversight and accountability for this Administration,” Mr. Doyle said in a statement today.
“If my colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee select me to chair the Communications and Technology Subcommittee next Congress, I will continue the work I have done as the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee, and will work to advance legislation and hold hearings that enhance innovation, competition, and consumer protection within the subcommittee’s jurisdiction,” he added.
“I hope to work with my colleagues on the Committee and within the Caucus to establish an agenda for the Subcommittee that makes these services more accessible and affordable to all Americans. That agenda should include protecting Net Neutrality, investing in broadband infrastructure, and providing Americans with the privacy and data security protections. I will also hope to provide much needed oversight to the Federal Agencies under the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction,” Rep. Doyle added.
House Democrats also have criticized the FCC’s actions on media ownership, consumer complaints, and other issues.
At a hearing in July, Rep. Doyle said, “In the nine months since our last hearing, the Commission has expanded its track record [for taking] anti-consumer, anti-small-business, anti-innovation [actions]” (TR Daily, July 25).
The current chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R., Ore.), would be in line to be ranking member, while the chairman of the communications subcommittee, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) was elected to the Senate yesterday. The vice chairman of the subcommittee is Rep. Leonard Lance (R., N.J.), who lost his bid for reelection.
In the digital commerce and consumer protection subcommittee, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) would be in line to take over as chairman. The current chairman is Rep. Bob Latta (R., Ohio).
Blair Levin, an adviser for New Street Research LLP and a former FCC chief of staff, suggested in a recent research note that a big Democratic victory in the election could prompt Mr. Pai to resign from the agency (TR Daily, Oct. 15).
“The bigger the wave, the bigger chance of personnel moves. The mid-term election marks a time when current officials think about moving on. While the odds favor FCC Chairman Pai staying through the end of the current Trump term, the bigger the Democratic victory, the more likely it is that Pai decides to leave,” Mr. Levin said. “That is unlikely to change the direction of any policy but could delay some actions, due to a transition of personnel and potential uncertainty about whether Trump would choose someone who is not currently on the Commission.”
A big Democratic victory also would give Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel “leverage,” Mr. Levin said. “During his tenure as Chairman, Pai has had the luxury of largely ignoring Democratic Commissioner Rosenworcel. Post-election, however, obtaining her vote may provide a new currency of immunizing him from oversight on any issue where she votes with the Republicans,” he said. “Commissioner Rosenworcel thus will become more important as she has more negotiating room for a condition on any item, which will be the price she will charge him for obtaining a bipartisan vote. On the other hand, voting with Pai may cost her in her effort to become Chair if a Democrat wins in 2020. So we think she will use her negotiating leverage more often on the lower-profile, technical issues than the more publicized, big-ticket issues.”
Mr. Pai has declined to publicly discuss his tenure.
“Chairman Pai congratulates all who were elected yesterday and looks forward to working with the new Congress,” an FCC spokesperson said today.
While Democrats won control of the House yesterday, Republicans gained seats in the Senate.
The leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is up in the air.
There has been speculation that Committee Chairman John Thune (R., S.D.), who is also chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, will seek the majority whip’s post, which is currently held by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), and give up chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee. If that occurs, Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) would be next in line for the top full committee spot. Sen. Wicker is currently chairman of the communications, technology, innovation, and the Internet subcommittee.
On the Democratic side, ranking member Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) is locked in a tight race with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R.). As of this morning, Sen. Nelson trailed Gov. Scott by 0.4%.
“We are proceeding to a recount,” Sen. Nelson said in a statement today that noted that state law requires a recount when candidates are within one-half of one percent.
If Sen. Nelson loses, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) would be next in line to become ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee. However, she is also ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and it’s unclear which one she would choose. If she goes with the latter panel, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) would be next in line to become ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee.
As for other committee members, Sen. Dean Heller (R., Nev.) was defeated yesterday. Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) was locked in a tight contest with Republican Matt Rosendale, but Sen. Tester claimed victory this afternoon.
At the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over privacy, intellectual property, antitrust, and other issues affecting the tech sector, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.), who won the race in his very blue district handily, appears poised to take over as chairman in January from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), who did not seek reelection and who was term-limited in his committee leadership role (TR Daily, Nov. 9, 2017). After former Chairmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.), who won reelection, and Lamar Smith (R., Texas), who did not seek reelection, the next-ranking Republican in line for the ranking member slot is Steve Chabot (R., Ohio).
In a statement on the election results, Rep. Nadler focused on the need to hold the administration accountable “for policies that rip children from the arms of their parents, that allow domestic abusers and white supremacists to get their hands on deadly firearms without a full background check, that allow voters to be intimidated and their voices suppressed, that enable pervasive corruption to influence decision making at the highest levels of government, and that undermine the rule of law and interfere with the independence of our justice system.”
The current chair of the subcommittee on courts, intellectual property, and the Internet, Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), who has been active on tech issues during his nearly two decades in Congress, did not seek reelection (TR Daily, Jan. 10). Rep. Doug Collins (R., Ga.) is in line to become ranking member in January.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Hank Johnson (R., Ga.), the current ranking member of the subcommittee, is in line to take over as chairman in January.
Among other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Reps. Ted Poe (R., Texas) did not seek reelection; Keith Rothfus (R., Pa.) was defeated by Conor Lamb (D.); Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) did not seek reelection; Raul Labrador (R., Idaho) lost in the primary; and Karen Handel (R., Ga.) trailed her Democratic challenger Lucy McBath by less than 3,000 votes with 100% of precincts reporting but had not conceded at TR Daily’s news deadline.
Among other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D., Ill.) did not seek reelection.
At the Senate Judiciary Committee, ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) won her reelection bid, while Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) does not face reelection until 2022.
The current chairman of the privacy, technology, and the law subcommittee, Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), did not seek reelection, nor did the next-in-line Republican member of the subcommittee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah). Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) is in line to take over as chairman in January. The current ranking member is Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.).
The remaining members of the committee in both parties who faced reelection won their races.
Among House members outside the Commerce and Judiciary Committees who lost their seats in yesterday’s elections was Rep. Mike Coffman (R., Colo.), the only Republican to support the discharge petition to bring Rep. Doyle’s CRA resolution on net neutrality to the House floor for a vote and who has also proposed a net neutrality bill (TR Daily, July 17). Rep. Coffman was defeated by Jason Crow (D.), a former Army Ranger, who included net neutrality among the consumer protections he pledged to work for, saying he would “preserve net neutrality to protect user control and competition and protect user privacy.”
Meanwhile, at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, ranking member Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) lost yesterday.
The new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is expected to be Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D., Miss.), who would take over from Rep. Michael McCaul (D., Texas). Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D., N.Y.) would be in line to assume chairmanship of the emergency preparedness, response, and communications subcommittee, where he is currently the ranking member. The current chairman, Rep. Dan Donovan (R., N.Y.), lost his election.
An aide to Rep. Thompson told TR Daily today that “we will be doing the rigorous oversight the Republicans have not done, we have tried to do, and they have stopped us from doing. Too often they have done the bare minimum to give cover to the Administration. Congress cannot be a rubberstamp for the Administration. We will focus on our diverse homeland security issues but also on defending and protecting our democracy, the rule of law and also on issues affecting people’s lives. Issues would include all aspects of border security/immigration (wall, troop deployment, family separation, zero tolerance, travel ban, DACA), election security, Hurricane Maria, and others.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) is in line to take over as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee from Rep. Gowdy.
“The American people voted to give the House of Representatives a mandate — to conduct credible, independent, robust, and responsible oversight of the Trump Administration,” said Rep. Cummings.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D., Ill.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee’s financial services and general government subcommittee, which oversees the FCC and Federal Trade Commission budgets, would be in line to take over as chairman of the panel. The current chairman is Rep. Tom Graves (R., Ga.).
Rep. José Serrano (D., N.Y.), ranking member of the Commerce, Justice, science, and related agencies subcommittee, would be in line for the chairmanship of that panel. The current chairman is Rep. John Culberson (R., Texas), who was defeated yesterday.
In other another election result of interest to the telecom policy community, Phil Weiser, founder and executive director of the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado at Boulder law school, was elected attorney general of Colorado yesterday. The center announced that it will begin a search for a new executive director in January. —Paul Kirby, [email protected], and Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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