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FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O'Rielly said he's unsure whether his agency has the authority to carry out President Trump's executive order targeting tech firms' legal protections.

Why it matters: Trump's order seeks to have the FCC craft regulations limiting the scope of legal immunity that online platforms have under federal law. All three commission Republicans would need to support such regulations for them to pass, as the FCC's two Democrats are certain to oppose them.

Details: In an interview Wednesday for C-SPAN's "The Communicators," O'Rielly told Axios he sympathizes with the president's claims that conservatives have been unfairly stifled online, but "what we do about that is a different story."

  • O'Rielly questioned whether Congress gave the FCC the power to regulate based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes platforms from legal action over user-posted content and moderation decisions.
  • "I have deep reservations they provided any intentional authority for this matter, but I want to listen to people," O'Rielly said, later adding, "I do not believe it is the right of the agency to read into the statute authority that is not there."
  • The executive order directs the Commerce Department to petition the FCC to review the issue. Assuming it gets to that stage, O'Rielly wants the FCC to put the matter to the public for comment.

Context: O'Rielly has been nominated by the White House for another term on the commission. The Senate Commerce Committee has a hearing on his renomination scheduled for Tuesday.

  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stayed relatively quiet on the executive order, while the third Republican on the commission, Brendan Carr, has been vocal in his support.

Go deeper...Scoop: White House taps Hawley to take aim at tech shield

Go deeper

Biden on presidential mask mandate: "Our legal team thinks I can do that"

Biden waves as he leaves a hotel in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware Wednesday he believes he would have the legal authority as president to issue a nationwide mandate to wear face masks to curb the spread of the coronavirus if needed.

Details: "Our legal team thinks I can do that, based upon the degree to which there's a crisis in those states, and how bad things are for the country," Biden said.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

5 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.

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