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Biden FCC pick withdraws from nomination

By Savannah Hamilton
|
March 12, 2023

President Biden’s nominee for the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), Gigi Sohn, withdrew her candidacy for the position on Tuesday. Considered a controversial pick by Republicans and Democrats, Sohn blamed both parties for the repeated scrutiny she has received over the years.

Republicans especially take an issue with her, with Senator Ted Cruz calling Sohn “one of the most radical and ethically compromised nominees I have ever seen.” Despite being an advocate for free speech, during Trump’s presidency, she called Fox News “state-sponsored propaganda.” She later confessed that this statement was a mistake.

Ted Cruz added that having such a “hardcore partisan” would be “dangerous.” Her criticism of the Trump administration and Republicans, however, is not the only issue people have with her.

Net Neutrality

Sohn is an openly gay advocate for free speech and net neutrality. During the Obama administration, she served as a counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, working on net neutrality legislation that was later repealed by Trump.

Net neutrality, which ensures an open internet and no speed restrictions for certain content providers, is supported by 75% of Americans and its reinstatement has long been one of Biden’s key promises as president. 

Many republicans oppose this. “They favor the status quo that allows the internet companies to pick winners and losers by charging content providers higher rates for speedier access to customers,” says SiliconValley.

Sohn’s confirmation would have flipped the FCC to a 3-2 democratic majority and helped the Biden administration’s efforts to restore net neutrality.

Conflict of Interest

Sohn has also been on the board of the non-profit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) since 2018, which supports online sex work. This, in addition to her ties to other progressive groups, has been argued as a potential conflict of interest if she takes the FCC position. 

EFF is well-known for fighting against SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act), a bill passed during Trump’s administration that aimed to crack down on sex trafficking but was argued to potentially censor sex workers’ rights.

Cruz is not the only one who questioned her ability to remain impartial. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, for example, argued that she wouldn’t “remain above the toxic partisanship that Americans are sick and tired of,” adding that Sohn “has clearly shown she is not the person to do that.”

Given that the Senate has only a 51-49 Democratic majority, any opposition towards Sohn from the Democratic side would have meant her loss even if she didn’t withdraw.

Calculated Campaign

Sohn also fought back, arguing that her opponents had long been running a smear campaign against her. In a statement, she complained about “15 months of false and misleading attacks on my record and my character. My industry opponents have hidden behind dark money groups and surrogates because they fear a pragmatic, pro-competition, pro-consumer policymaker who will support policies that will bring more, faster, and lower-priced broadband.”

She also hinted at corruption, telling the Washington Post, “It is a sad day for our country and our democracy when dominant industries, with assistance from unlimited dark money, get to choose their regulators.”

Despite the many criticisms, the White House stood by Biden’s 2021 decision to nominate Sohn for the position.

In a statement last week following Sohn’s withdrawal, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre praised Sohn, stating, “We appreciate Gigi Sohn's candidacy for this important role. She would have brought tremendous intellect and experience, which is why the president nominated her in the first place.”

Jean-Pierre then added that Sohn “would be a great, a great candidate and would have been an excellent political official.”

It is not yet known who Biden will choose to nominate instead for the vacant FCC seat.