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President Trump and his wife Melania at an NBC event in 2012. Photo: Evan Agostini / AP

President Trump asked Wednesday morning when it would be "appropriate to challenge [NBC's] License." But NBC's main network doesn't have a government license, and Trump doesn't have the power to directly take away the licenses that do exist — for the local stations that run its content.

Why it matters: Trump has regularly attacked the press, and his threat here is serious: to try and take a broadcast network off the air because he doesn't like its recent stories. It's a tactic that echoes Richard Nixon, who targeted licenses held by the Washington Post. But it's legally more complicated than the president's tweet makes it seem.

The facts:
  • NBC the network doesn't have a "license." Individual stations do. Some of those are owned directly by NBC's parent company, Comcast, but even if the FCC revoked those licenses it wouldn't stop the network from producing content.
  • "There's no way the FCC can say, 'Saturday Night Live needs to go off the air,'" said Harold Feld, senior vice president at advocacy group Public Knowledge.
  • The FCC is an independent agency. Its chairman, Ajit Pai, is designated by the president. But he's not beholden to the White House's demands like executive agencies.
  • The president does have the ability to pressure the FCC chair. Trump's comments Wednesday are an example. It's still highly unlikely that anything would happen to the licenses, Feld said. "Trump can't order the FCC to do it, the FCC wouldn't want to do it, and even if they did poke around they couldn't really do anything other than poke around and demand documents based on what the precedents are," he said.
  • The FCC does have leverage over NBC owner Comcast, Feld noted. But any move to pursue the company would be out of step with Pai's industry-friendly agenda thus far.

Go deeper

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.