House Dems Urge FCC To Halt Work On 'Controversial' Items

Given the results of last week's presidential election, the Federal Communications Commission should stop work on “all partisan, controversial items under consideration,” Democratic leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said Tuesday in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“As a traditional part of the peaceful transfer of power -- and as part of our oversight responsibilities -- we strongly urge the agency to only pursue consensus and administrative matters that are non-partisan for the remainder of your tenure,” Reps. Frank Pallone (New Jersey), chairman of the committee, and Mike Doyle (Pennsylvania), chairman of the subcommittee on communications and technology, wrote.

Pallone and Doiyle add that the FCC leadership “will undoubtedly be changing,” as a result of the last week's vote. Pai's term won't officially expire until January of 2022, but FCC chairmen typically step down after voters elect new presidents.

Among the most controversial items on the FCC's potential agenda is a petition by the Commerce Department for rules tying web publishers' protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to the companies' policies for handling posts by users.

Pai said last month that that he plans to launch a proceeding to consider that petition. The FCC's two Democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, as well as Republican Michael O'Rielly, have indicated they don't think the FCC should consider the petition.

President Trump withdrew O'Rielly's renomination to the agency and nominated telecom lawyer Nathan Simington -- who helped draft the Commerce Department's petition for new Section 230 regulations -- as a replacement.

The Senate Commerce Committee considered Simington's nomination at a hearing Tuesday.

Shortly before the start of the hearing, Trump urged lawmakers to quickly confirm Simington, tweeting: “We need action NOW on this very important nomination!!”

But Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said at the hearing that he would place a hold on the nomination until Simington made a commitment to recuse himself from taking part in the agency's consideration of the petition for Section 230 regulations.

Simington declined to make that promise Tuesday. Instead, he said he would ask the FCC's ethics counsel for advice about recusal.

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