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OPINION

The Senate Agrees: Gigi Sohn Is Wrong for the FCC

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

It turns out third time is not the charm, at least not for Gigi Sohn. After the Senate Commerce Committee declined to advance Ms. Sohn’s nomination to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) two years in a row, President Biden bizarrely renominated her at the beginning of 2023 for a third time. On Tuesday, she withdrew from consideration.

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While the Senate was evenly split, the Commerce Committee deadlocked twice on votes to advance the Sohn nomination to the floor. If Democrats had been united in their support for Ms. Sohn, they would have confirmed her last Congress with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Harris. That they did not indicates that at least one off-committee Democrat was opposed to her confirmation. Sohn’s withdrawal came moments after one such Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, announced his opposition after two years of silence on the matter.

Perhaps the Biden team calculated that an expanded Senate majority would make the job easier. Evidently, they failed to consult any Senate Democrats because her sudden withdrawal came before the Commerce Committee even had a chance to hold a third vote. While Manchin was publicly opposed, she could still have lost one Democrat and prevailed if all Republicans opposed her. This indicates that opposition to her nomination was more widespread among Democrats behind the scenes.

Regardless, this is excellent news for free speech, intellectual property, and rural broadband expansion. Gigi Sohn’s open hostility to Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting impugn her credibility as an honest broker in the telecommunications space. She has also been forced to recuse herself from key decisions after a sweetheart settlement in a copyright violation lawsuit brought against a nonprofit on whose board she sat. In 2017, she was associated with organizations that harassed former FCC Chair Ajit Pai over net neutrality.

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Ms. Sohn further testified that “policymakers have focused disproportionately on broadband deployment in rural areas of the United States,” despite the fact that the most unserved Americans live in rural areas. She has also been tied to groups that support defunding police. 

Ms. Sohn probably did not do herself any favors at her third confirmation hearing last month. Newly elected Senator J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) took the opportunity to question a tweet in which she called Justice Brett Kavanaugh an “angry white man,” asking Ms. Sohn if it would be disqualifying for a nominee to characterize Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as an “angry black woman.” Her response was “not necessarily.” As Senator Vance then noted, America is currently plagued by deep racial polarization, and sentiments like these will not help to turn down the temperature.

Additionally, since her second hearing early in 2022, Ms. Sohn has broken longstanding precedent and donated money to the campaigns of senators who were actively considering her nomination. While not illegal, the appearance of impropriety is obvious and does not speak well of Ms. Sohn’s judgement.

Meanwhile, despite much doomsaying by progressive activists who predicted that an FCC evenly-split between Democrats and Republicans would be paralyzed by indecision, the 2-2 FCC has managed to put aside their differences and focus on meaningful, bipartisan reforms and a host of good-governance initiatives. These include updating the national Broadband Coverage Map, cracking down on unsecure Chinese technology, and rulemakings on the Affordable Connectivity Program and digital discrimination.

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At its February open meeting, the evenly-split FCC also reached unanimous agreements on providing survivors of domestic violence emergency communications support and streamlining bureaucracy to connect tribal schools to broadband. Ms. Sohn has sat on the sidelines throughout, her nomination pending as Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and senior Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr repeatedly undermine the claim that she is needed on the FCC to break non-existent gridlock.

The confirmation of Gigi Sohn would have been a strike against bipartisanship and a sad continuation of the divisive, polarizing politics of our age. Ms. Sohn’s own rhetoric has been consistently polarizing both politically and racially. Conservatives, Republicans, and all who value the rule of law and freedom of expression should celebrate the defeat of this extreme nominee.

James Erwin the executive director of digital liberty and federal affairs manager for telecommunications at Americans for Tax Reform.


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