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Biden FCC Picks Get Separate Hearings After Criticism of One

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(Bloomberg) -- The Senate Commerce Committee will consider President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the U.S. Federal Communications Commission next week but hold off consideration of his choice for a fifth commissioner who has drawn Republican criticism.

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The committee will hold a hearing on Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination for a full term as chairwoman of the FCC on Nov. 17, according to a notice published by the committee. A hearing is expected several weeks later for FCC nominee Gigi Sohn and another nominee, Alan Davidson, who would oversee spectrum policy at the Commerce Department, said a person briefed on the matter.

Republicans have asked for more time to consider Sohn and Davidson, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations over the hearings haven’t been public.

The nominations of Rosenworcel, the acting chairwoman of the FCC, and Sohn require approval by the closely-divided Senate. Their confirmation would produce a Democratic majority at the five-seat agency that’s been in a 2-to-2 partisan deadlock since a Republican left in January.

“Gigi Sohn is a complete political ideologue who has disdain for conservatives. She would be a complete nightmare for the country,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, tweeted Tuesday. He said he’d ask senators “to reject this extreme nominee.”

Graham linked to a Wall Street Journal editorial that said Sohn “wants more government control of the airwaves.” It cited her support for net neutrality rules and Sohn’s 2018 tweet saying the FCC should “look at” whether Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. is qualified to hold broadcast licenses.

Sohn’s statement about Sinclair came after the Republican-led FCC questioned whether the company misrepresented facts as it sought a merger. “If true, this allegation raises a legitimate question as to whether Sinclair is fit to be a broadcast licensee,” Sohn said in a blog post linked in the tweet cited by the Journal.

The prospect of delay alarmed Sohn’s supporters. Opponents are “smearing Gigi’s record,” tweeted Craig Aaron, president of the public policy group Free Press. “Gigi Sohn is a brilliant attorney and advocate with a distinguished record inside and outside the FCC.”

Sohn declined to comment.

On Wednesday, she drew statements of support from Brad Blakeman, a former aide to President George W. Bush, who in a statement on the Newsmax site cast her as a supporter of free speech. Charles Herring, president of One America News Network that often supports former President Donald Trump, posted an endorsement of Sohn, saying she supports diversity of programming “regardless of conflicts with her personal views.”

Sohn, a communications lawyer, was an aide to the FCC’s chairman in 2015 as the agency put in place the net neutrality rules that governed broadband providers’ handling of web traffic. The rules were later gutted by the FCC under Republican control.

Sohn in a 2020 tweet called Fox News “state-sponsored propaganda.”

Sohn is a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy and a Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate. Earlier, she founded the Public Knowledge advocacy group that often challenges communications industry stances before regulators.

(Updates with hearing notice in second paragraph.)

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