Cruz Blocks Obama’s Nominee to Chair FCC

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks after meeting with Republican senators regarding a bipartisan solution for the pending budget and debt limit impasse at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate announced that it had reached a bipartisan deal on funding the federal government and the extending the nation's debt limit after 16 days of a government shutdown.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Oct. 17, 2013, 3:36 p.m.

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.

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