The former head of NCTA and CTIA is nominated to succeed Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman. In a historic first, the president taps FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to be acting chair until Wheeler is confirmed by the Senate, making her the commission's first African-American chair.
Obama Nominates Tom Wheeler To FCC
President Barack Obama made it official today: Tom Wheeler, the former head lobbyist for the cable TV and the wireless industries, is his pick to be the FCC’s new chairman.
At the same time, the president announced that Mignon Clyburn, the FCC’s senior Democrat, will serve as the acting chair until Wheeler is confirmed.
“Together they’ve got a very important mission: giving businesses and workers the tools they need to compete in the 21st century economy and making sure we’re staying at the cutting edge of an industry that again and again we’ve revolutionized here in America,” the president said in a White House briefing.
“Now, if anybody is wondering about Tom’s qualifications, Tom is the only member of both the cable television and the wireless industry hall of fame,” the president said. “So he’s like the Jim Brown of telecom, or the Bo Jackson of telecom. And that’s because for more than 30 years, Tom has been at the forefront of some of the very dramatic changes that we’ve seen in the way we communicate and how we live our lives.
“He was one of the leaders of a company that helped create thousands of good, high-tech jobs. He’s in charge of the group that advises the FCC on the latest technology issues. He’s helped give American consumers more choices and better products. So Tom knows this stuff inside and out.”
Wheeler, a major fundraiser for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, is expected to take over the reins of the agency as soon as he can win Senate confirmation for the post.
Julius Genachowski, the FCC’s current chairman, announced his planned resignation in March. He said today he expects to leave the agency “in mid-May.”
Clyburn’s appointment will go into the agency’s history book because she will be the agency’s first female chair. Sources say she could serve as the agency’s chair for several months or more while Wheeler awaits Senate confirmation.
Sources also say that Wheeler’s confirmation is expected to be put on hold until the White House names a Republican to succeed GOP Commissioner Robert McDowell, who also announced his resignation from the agency in March. The leading GOP candidate, according to industry sources, is Michael O‘Rielly, a top adviser to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). Other GOP candidates said to have their hats in the ring include Ray Baum, senior policy adviser to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and A.B Cruz III, a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy Reserve who previously worked for Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. and as an attorney for Wiley Rein LLP.
Senate Democrats and Republicans are likely to insist that Wheeler and the GOP FCC candidate be moved together in a package deal, sources say. So Wheeler may have to wait until Senate Republicans and the White House agree on the naming of a Republican FCC nominee, with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), expected to have considerable say over the selection.
According to some industry sources, it could take months for the new commissioners to get on board because potential nominees need to go through a vetting process that can be particularly time-consuming for prospective candidates who are not already working for the government.
One question unanswered at deadline was how Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) will react to the news that the White House tapped Wheeler as its pick for the chairman’s post. Rockefeller had made clear that he wanted his former aide — FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel — promoted to the agency’s chairmanship. The Senate Commerce Committee presides over confirmation hearings for FCC nominees.
Reaction to Wheeler’s and Clyburn’s nominations came swiftly. NAB President Gordon Smith said the nominee has “the experience and temperament to serve the agency with distinction.” And he added, “NAB salutes President Obama’s historic selection of Mignon Clyburn as acting chair of the FCC. Commissioner Clyburn is a trailblazer and role model for millions of women, and her commitment to serving the public interest is unquestioned.”
NCTA President-CEO Michael Powell said: “With his significant experience in both the private and public sector, Tom [Wheeler] is an exceptional choice to lead the commission during a time when the telecommunications marketplace is experiencing significant innovation and incredible change. We welcome the pending appointment of Mignon Clyburn as interim chairman as she is a distinguished and able public servant.”
American Cable Association CEO Matthew M. Polka said: “The American Cable Association is heartened that the President has nominated someone as competent as Tom Wheeler to be Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. He has spent his career in the communications industry — running a company that invests in new entrants in the high-tech field, representing vital industry sectors and serving on government panels. At a time when the communications sector has so many opportunities and faces so many challenges, the FCC needs someone that is both capable and qualified. Mr. Wheeler is the right person for the job.”