Sohn’s FCC odds improve with new Congress, but there’s a catch: analyst

The third time might be the charm for Gigi Sohn. The Wall Street Journal reported President Joe Biden is set to renominate Sohn to become the fifth member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), hoping to finally push through her appointment after two previous nominations lapsed. New Street Research analyst Blair Levin told Fierce her odds of installation are better than ever before with a new Congress in session but noted the looming 2024 election could put a damper on any grand plans the Democrat-led FCC may have.

To recap, Biden originally nominated Sohn for an FCC post back in October 2021. But while Congress advanced a contemporaneous nomination to appoint Jessica Rosenworcel as FCC chair, Sohn’s bid stalled amid partisan bickering. Sohn was renominated in January 2021 and the Senate Commerce Committee gave her bid the green light, but the full Senate failed to vote on her appointment before the end of the 117th Congress ended on January 3, 2023.

Levin noted the newly installed 118th Congress gives Democrats a slightly larger majority in the Senate. Rather than a 50-50 split with the Vice President acting as the tiebreaking vote, Democrats now have a 51-49 advantage over Republicans. Since it is the Senate and not the House of Representatives that approves presidential appointments, that means Sohn’s chances of confirmation have improved.

The analyst predicted Sohn will once again be approved by the Senate Commerce Committee “relatively quickly.” Levin added that while Democratic leadership in the last session of Congress was focused on passing major legislation – which takes a lot of time – that’s not necessarily the case now.

“As it starts off, from a Chuck Schumer perspective, it’s all about nominations,” Levin explained referring to the Democrats’ Senate Majority Leader. “She will be able to get out of committee faster…her chances are better in this situation than they were in the last Congress.”

If Sohn does finally make it to the FCC, Levin said she could help advance action on issues like net neutrality, digital discrimination and spectrum. However, there’s a catch: namely the fact that controversial FCC orders usually end up in court. And that could be a real problem given how slowly the wheels of justice tend to turn.

For context, the FCC’s decision in late 2017 to repeal its previous net neutrality rules faced a court challenge. That case was ultimately decided by an appeals court in October 2019 and the FCC completed a court-ordered review of the repeal’s impacts a year later.

Now, instead of having a full four years to fight court battles with a Democrat majority, Levin noted the Rosenworcel-led FCC will only have two or less, depending on when Sohn is approved, before the 2024 election shakes things up. The party in power traditionally chooses the FCC chair. That means if Republicans win the next election, Rosenworcel could be out.

“We’ll see what happens in 2024,” Levin concluded.