The Senate Commerce Committee Thursday voted 14-14 on partisan lines to approve the nominations of privacy expert Alvaro Bedoya to the Federal Trade Commission and longtime net neutrality advocate Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission.
The tie vote means both nominations will advance to the Senate floor.
If Bedoya and Sohn are confirmed by the Senate, the FTC and FCC will have a majority of Democrats for the first time during the Biden administration, leaving the agencies poised to move forward with their leaders' ambitious policy agendas.
At the FCC, Sohn's confirmation would pave the way for the agency to reinstitute the Obama-era net neutrality rules -- which prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.
Given the current partisan divide in Congress on net neutrality, it's probably not surprising that Republican lawmakers voted against Sohn.
Of course, the senators who voted no did not say outright that they were hoping to keep the agency deadlocked. Instead, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said his main concern with Sohn's nomination was her supposed willingness to “use government power as a tool of censorship.”
“The FCC is a particularly dangerous place for a partisan who is willing to try to muzzle those with who she disagrees," Cruz said.
The lawmaker did not elaborate on why he believes Sohn -- a longtime public advocate who previously served as counsel to former FCC chief Tom Wheeler -- would try to “censor” anyone, or how she would accomplish that.
In any event, people who have worked with Sohn say she is a passionate defender of the First Amendment.
“I know Gigi. I have worked with Gigi. And I have seen her fight for people's right to express themselves, even when she disagrees with them,” Brad Blakeman (formerly a member of ex-President George W. Bush's senior White House staff), wrote recently in Newsmax. “Even when other liberals wanted to shut down conservative voices, Gigi stood up for free speech.”
Bedoya, the founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law, also failed to win a single Republican vote on Thursday.
Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) said he opposed Bedoya's nomination due to his “divisive views.”
“I remain concerned by the frequency with which he has publicly expressed divisive views on policy matters, rather than using a more measured and unifying tone,” Wicker said Thursday. “There has been a troubling trend of politicization at the FTC, which we have not had in the past, and I fear Mr. Bedoya would not bring the cooperative spirit that is so greatly needed.”
The references to divisive views apparently stemmed from tweets by Bedoya, including his retweet of post that compared Donald Trump's 2016 presidential convention to a white supremacist rally. Bedoya later apologized for the retweet.