Not long after the Senate approved a budget deal to reopen the government and address the debt ceiling, Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who helped engineer the shutdown, performed another disruptive act.
Cruz blocked the confirmation of Tom Wheeler, President Obama’s nominee for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Mike O’Rielly, a Republican nominee for FCC commissioner, also could not be confirmed because the two nominations are paired together.
The senator’s office confirmed that he was holding up Wheeler’s confirmation because he wants questions answered about whether Wheeler believes the FCC should have the power to require political television and radio advertisers to disclose sources of funding, according to The Hill. Cruz and some other Republicans worry Democrats want to use their FCC nominees to implement the failed Disclose Act, which sought to require political groups to reveal additional donor information.
In a statement, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he was “disappointed” that the nominees were blocked.
“We need to get the government functioning as a whole again,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “We saw during the shutdown the difficulties experienced by families, businesses, and the economies when the obstruction of a reckless few prevails and causes the lapse of important government services. If the government is going to fully function for the American people, we have to get these highly qualified nominees confirmed now.”
Cruz had made it clear earlier this year that he might block Wheeler’s confirmation process if the nominee did not declare in writing whether he thinks the FCC should be permitted to force disclosure.
“This is the one issue that has, in my opinion, the potential to derail your nomination,” Cruz told Wheeler during an otherwise easy June hearing before the Commerce Committee. He added: “There are few if any issues that inspire more passionate, partisan divisions in this body.”
Wheeler did not give Cruz a direct response. “This is an issue that I look forward to learning more about,” he said. “But I do not miss the expressions on both sides of this as to the strong feelings. I know this is an issue of tension.”
At the time of the hearing, the possibility of a single senator — such as Cruz — holding up Wheeler’s confirmation was floated by observers, but few expected Cruz to follow through. Rockefeller at the time told Politico that “these things have a way of working out.” Wheeler was given the go-ahead by the committee in July.
But the shutdown crisis proved that Cruz is willing to act on his tough antigovernment rhetoric, and Wheeler’s nomination may continue to be on pause until Cruz is satisfied. What Wheeler needs to do to assuage Cruz’s fears, however, remains to be seen.
Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn will continue to run the FCC with a 2-1 Democratic majority. Two seats remain vacant.