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Senate Committee OKs Wheeler FCC Nomination

However August recess means full Senate won’t vote on confirmation for several weeks

The Senate Commerce Committee approved President Obama’s choice as next FCC chairman Tuesday, but not without some fuss.

After the vote to send Tom Wheeler’s nomination to the full Senate, Committee Chairman West Virginia Democrat Sen. Jay Rockefeller said he was confident that Wheeler’s “extensive experience and capabilities in the communications industry” make him the right person for the job.

Wheeler was an Obama fundraiser as well as chief of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association from 1979 to 1984, and head of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association from 1992 to 2003. He’s now a venture capitalist.

Before the vote, Rockefeller said “I know that there are some on this committee who believe that we should wait to vote on Mr. Wheeler’s nomination until there is a Republican FCC nominee. But I would remind my colleagues that this committee moved FTC Commissioner Josh Wright’s unpaired nomination in a shorter timeframe — less than a month after his nomination hearing. Mr. Wheeler deserves the same consideration.”

Senate Republicans wanted to wait to pair Wheeler’s nomination with a Republican nominee to fill the slot filled by former Commissioner Robert McDowell. Ranking member Sen. John Thune of South Dakota made that point, saying Republicans hope to receive that nomination from the White House “very soon.” Delays in committee action caused by pairing such nominations are usually offset by speedy confirmation by the full Senate, he noted.

“For example, although former Chairman Genachowski was nominated two-and-a-half months before Commissioner McDowell was renominated, they were reported by the committee on the same day, and confirmed by the full Senate one week later,” said Thune, who did support Wheeler’s nomination in committee.

Wheeler’s nomination passed by voice vote with a “no vote” from Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who said he’s fuzzy on Wheeler’s position on political ad disclosures.

When the Senate would actually vote on the nomination is unclear. Since Congress leaves for its August recess this week, that means further action on the FCC nominations will need to wait until fall, leaving Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in place.