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Robin Groulx / Axios

Democrats are stepping up their questions about FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's views on press freedom, a new line of criticism as Pai rolls back agency rules they supported. The Democratic members of the Senate Commerce Committee said in a letter they are concerned that at a hearing this week Pai wouldn't say directly whether he agreed with President Trump that some media outlets are the "enemy of the American people."

More than once, Pai said he didn't want to get involved in a political debate broader than the FCC, but reiterated his support for the First Amendment. The letter shows this isn't an issue Senate Democrats are ready to let go:

"While you have long claimed to be an advocate for the freedom of the press and the First Amendment, your silence on the matter and refusal to take a stand against threats levied at the media is troubling given your regulatory and oversight role over the industry. Moreover, such a lack of response could call into question the ongoing independence of the FCC under your watch."

What Pai says: Asked about the letter, an FCC spokesman pointed to a Pai statement from 2016 where he said that "newspaper reporters continue to do important work throughout our country each and every day."

"Chairman Pai continues to believe that," the spokesman said. "Chairman Pai is a strong supporter of the First Amendment rights of the media and all Americans. He has protected those rights at the FCC and will continue to do so as long as he is privileged to serve at the Commission."

Pai pledged at the hearing to run an agency independent of the White House.

Why this matters:

  • Pai is up to be reconfirmed by the Senate for another term on the commission. The Democratic lawmakers said in their letter that his answers to the press freedom questions in their letter "will inform our ongoing consideration of your renomination for an additional five-year term on the FCC."
  • Even though the president appoints the FCC Chairman, the agency is supposed to be independent. Questioning an FCC chairman's autonomy from the White House is a way to paint their policies as politically motivated. It's a criticism conservatives know well: they argued that Pai's Democratic predecessor, Tom Wheeler, was in the pocket of the Obama administration.

What to watch: How Democrats handle Pai's renomination, and if their broader concerns seem to be gaining traction. The Democrats behind a letter want an answer to their questions by the end of next week.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

The dark new reality in Congress

National Guard troops keep watch at security fencing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.