WASHINGTON – The Senate has narrowly approved President Donald Trump’s lame-duck nominee to become a member of the Federal Communications Commission, setting up the agency for a stretch of partisan gridlock likely to stymie President-elect Joe Biden’s policies.
The vote Tuesday was 49-46 along party lines to confirm Nathan Simington as one of five commissioners of the independent regulatory agency. Simington is now a senior adviser at the Commerce Department agency that advises the president on telecommunications and information policy. He played a role in the plan by the Republican-majority FCC, announced before last month’s election, to reexamine the legal protections enjoyed by social media companies like Facebook and Twitter for content that people post on their platforms.
The FCC plan came in response to Trump’s executive order in May challenging the long-held protections for social media companies from liability, which have served as the foundation for unfettered speech on the internet.
’’Mr. Simington’s key qualification seems to be that he supports President Trump’s desired changes to Section 230, a law that regulates internet speech,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on the floor before the vote.
The shield from liability for social media companies has been grounded in Section 230 of a landmark 1996 telecommunications law. Trump and Republican lawmakers have persistently accused the social media companies, without evidence, of suppressing conservative viewpoints, and Trump portrayed his executive order as a remedy for bias.
Democratic lawmakers, and Biden, also have supported limiting the liability protections of online platforms. But they believe it’s solely up to Congress, not the FCC, to make changes.
Consumer advocate organizations have opposed Simington’s confirmation, saying his joining the FCC brings deadlock that will block actions to foster the online access critically needed by consumers, workers and students during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking against Simington's confirmation, Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said some 16 million students nationwide are effectively locked out of classrooms because they lack access to the internet. He called Simington “unprepared and unqualified" for the FCC position.