On June 21, 2021, President Joe Biden withdrew the nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after a Democratic senator announced their opposition to her nomination.
Sohn, a well-known advocate of net neutrality and other progressive tech policies, was initially seen as a strong candidate for the role. However, her nomination faced opposition from organized labor groups and some Senate Democrats who were concerned about her past work for tech companies.
The withdrawal of Sohn’s nomination highlights the challenges that the Biden administration faces in securing key appointments to the FCC, an independent agency responsible for regulating the nation’s communications industries.
The Nomination and Opposition to Gigi Sohn
Gigi Sohn was nominated to the FCC by President Biden in April of 2021. Sohn has an extensive background in the tech industry as an advocate for progressive policies. She worked as a top executive at the advocacy group Public Knowledge, where she was instrumental in the battle to preserve net neutrality rules during the Obama administration.
During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Sohn said she would prioritize expanding internet access, promoting digital equity, and protecting consumer privacy. She also highlighted her experience as a consumer advocate and spoke about the importance of the FCC’s role in promoting competition and innovation in the tech industry.
Sohn received support from a number of progressive organizations, including Demand Progress and Fight for the Future, who praised her commitment to promoting an open and accessible internet.
However, opposition to Sohn’s nomination began to mount soon after her nomination was announced. Some tech industry groups and organized labor groups raised concerns about her past work for tech companies, including her time as a special counsel for former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
One group that voiced opposition to Sohn’s nomination was the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a powerful union that represents workers in the tech and telecommunications industries. In a letter to the Senate Commerce Committee, the CWA criticized Sohn’s record on union and labor issues, writing that “her activities over the past decade demonstrate a failure to prioritize the public interest.”
The union specifically took issue with Sohn’s past work for the Ford Foundation, which the CWA said had “actively undermined worker rights.” The letter also accused Sohn of having “sympathies to big tech and their labor practices,” which it described as “anti-worker.”
The opposition to Sohn’s nomination gained steam when Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who holds a crucial swing vote in a closely divided Senate, announced that he would not support her nomination. In a statement, Manchin cited concerns about Sohn’s views on expanding broadband access, which he said could harm small internet service providers in rural areas.
“After closely reviewing her record, I have serious concerns about her views on expanding broadband access,” Manchin said in a statement. “I do not believe her view on this issue would benefit rural America.”
Manchin’s opposition effectively doomed Sohn’s nomination, as Democrats control the Senate by a slim margin and cannot afford to lose any votes on key nominations.
Biden’s Withdrawal of Sohn’s Nomination
Following Senator Manchin’s announcement, it became clear that Sohn’s nomination was in trouble. On June 21, 2021, President Biden withdrew her nomination, citing “an increasingly challenging Senate environment” for her confirmation.
In a statement, Biden thanked Sohn for her willingness to serve and praised her “long record of leadership and her deep expertise in communications policy.”
However, Biden also expressed his disappointment at the opposition to Sohn’s nomination, writing that “it is unfortunate that politics continue to creep into the nomination process for dedicated public servants.”
The withdrawal of Sohn’s nomination drew mixed reactions from tech industry groups and advocacy organizations.
Some groups, including the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Center for Democracy and Technology, expressed disappointment at the failure to confirm a strong advocate for net neutrality and consumer privacy.
“The FCC desperately needs new leadership to address the problems of broadband affordability, adoption, and deployment and to restore the role of the FCC as a watchdog for consumer protection and public interest,” said Olivia Wein, the director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
Other organizations, however, welcomed the withdrawal of Sohn’s nomination. Michael O’Rielly, a former Republican commissioner at the FCC who was reappointed to the agency by President Trump, praised Senator Manchin for his decision and suggested that Sohn had been the wrong choice for the job.
“It’s a hallmark of a successful presidency that you nominate a candidate that can garner bipartisan support and not create deep divisions,” O’Rielly wrote on Twitter.
The Future of the FCC
The withdrawal of Gigi Sohn’s nomination highlights the difficulties that the Biden administration faces in securing key appointments to the FCC. The agency has a critical role in regulating the nation’s communications industries and promoting competition and innovation in the tech sector.
President Biden has yet to name a new nominee for the FCC, and it is not clear who he will choose to fill the vacancy created by the withdrawal of Sohn’s nomination. The administration may face pressure to choose a candidate who can win the support of both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, given the narrow majority held by Democrats in the chamber.
Whoever is ultimately chosen to lead the FCC will face a number of challenges and opportunities in the coming months and years. The agency will need to address issues such as net neutrality, broadband access, and consumer privacy, while also promoting innovation and competition in the tech industry.
The FCC will also need to navigate a complex political landscape, as the tech industry has come under increasing scrutiny from both sides of the aisle in recent years. Republicans and Democrats have both raised concerns about the power and influence of big tech companies, and the FCC will need to balance these competing interests as it develops policies and regulations for the industry.
The withdrawal of Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the FCC highlights the challenges that the Biden administration faces in securing key appointments to the agency. Sohn’s nomination faced opposition from some Senate Democrats, as well as organized labor groups, and ultimately failed to win the support of crucial swing voter Senator Joe Manchin.
The future of the FCC remains uncertain, as President Biden has yet to name a new nominee for the agency. Whoever ultimately leads the FCC will face a number of challenges and opportunities, including addressing issues such as net neutrality and broadband access, while also navigating a complex political landscape.