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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

President Trump is pushing the Senate to confirm his hand-picked nominee for a seat on the Federal Communications Commission, but people familiar with the state of play on Capitol Hill don't expect him to get his wish.

Why it matters: The FCC oversees broadband internet rules, media ownership regulation and other policies that hold special importance to the president. A Trump-aligned commissioner could likely agitate for greater agency involvement in how online platforms moderate speech and otherwise extend Trump's influence into the Biden administration.

Catch up quick: Trump plucked Nathan Simington from the Commerce Department in September to join the FCC.

  • Simington, who is a relative unknown in telecom policy circles, had helped implement the president's social media executive order seeking to curb platforms' ability to moderate content.
  • Trump had previously tapped GOP Commissioner Mike O'Rielly for another term, but the president revoked that nomination after O'Rielly questioned the FCC's authority to craft online speech rules.
  • Simington had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee this week.

Driving the news: A quick confirmation for Simington in Congress' lame duck session would give Republicans a chance to sabotage the early work of the Biden FCC.

  • The 5-member FCC gives 3 seats to whichever party holds the White House and 2 from the other side.
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is widely expected to step down before Biden takes office, and O'Rielly's term is up.
  • Their impending departures set up the Biden administration to start with a 2-1 Democratic majority at the FCC that could advance policy before other Biden nominees are confirmed to the empty slots.
  • If Simington is confirmed first, that would instead leave the FCC with a 2-2 party-line split, hampering big policy changes on issues such as net neutrality until another Democrat is confirmed.

What they're saying: "[Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell may see the bigger picture — keeping the FCC at 2-2 is better for a conservative approach to regulatory policy than allowing the Democrats to hit the ground running with a 2-1 advantage," said former Pai aide Nathan Leamer, now vice president at public affairs firm Targeted Victory.

Of note: McConnell could also easily slow-walk the process of filling the third Democratic seat should his party hold the chamber following January run-off elections in Georgia.

On the morning of Simington's hearing Tuesday, Trump tweeted, "Republicans will hopefully confirm him to the FCC ASAP! We need action NOW on this very important nomination!!"

  • Per a spokesperson, Sen. Ted Cruz "looks forward to working with Mr. Simington and hopes he will be swiftly confirmed," applauding Simington's "fresh, new, and important perspective" on using the FCC to narrow the reach of tech platforms' liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Yes, but: Simington is still viewed as unlikely to make it through the confirmation process in the limited time left in this Congress. He may lack the votes to get approved by the Senate Commerce committee, and he faces broader procedural hurdles.

  • Observers argue McConnell is unlikely to view confirming Simington as a great use of the time the Senate has left this year. (A McConnell spokesperson said there were no floor scheduling announcements or guidance to share on Simington.)

Meanwhile: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he would put a hold on Simington's nomination — slowing down its progress — unless Simington commits to recusing himself from FCC deliberations relating to Trump's executive order, since he was involved in implementing it.

The bottom line: "The Senate Majority Leader has been very clear he wants to get more judges through — is jamming up the FCC really a priority for Republicans?" former FCC adviser Gigi Sohn said.

Go deeper

Nov 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Republicans quietly plot to sink Biden nominees

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Republicans are making plans to torpedo some of President-elect Biden's prospective Cabinet, agency and judicial nominees if the GOP keeps its majority, aides involved in the discussions tell me.

What we're hearing: Top targets include political names and civil servants who spoke out loudest against President Trump, forced out his appointees or became stars in the impeachment hearings — like Sally Yates and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — as well as longtime targets of conservative media, like Susan Rice.

Updated 21 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Sen. Kelly Loeffler to return to campaign trail after 2nd negative test

Sen. Kelly Loeffler addresses supporters during a rally on Thursday. Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Sen. Kelly Loeffler's (R-Ga.) campaign announced Monday that she "looks forward to getting back out on the campaign trail" after testing negative for COVID-19 for a second time, following earlier conflicting results.

Why it matters: Loeffler has been campaigning at events ahead of a Jan. 5 runoff in elections that'll decide which party holds the Senate majority. Vice President Mike Pence was with her on Friday.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Key government agency says Biden transition can formally begin

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy. Photo: Alex Edelman/CNP/Getty Images

General Services Administrator Emily Murphy said in a letter to President-elect Joe Biden on Monday that she has determined the transition from the Trump administration can formally begin.

Why it matters: Murphy, a Trump appointee, had come under fire for delaying the so-called "ascertainment" and withholding the funds and information needed for the transition to begin while Trump's legal challenges played out.