The fate of President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s could rest in the hands of Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.
Gigi Sohn, the progressive activist and telecom lawyer Biden has thrice picked for the FCC, needs the Senate to confirm her nomination, but Sohn’s radical track record and ethically dubious record could be a problem for Collins and King.
Sohn walked into her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday morning claiming to be “baffled” as to why national law enforcement groups are vocally opposing her nomination.
By the time the hearing ended three hours later, the only baffling question left was how a nominee as ideologically extreme and ethically challenged as Sohn had managed to make it through White House vetting multiple times in the first place.
Under withering questioning from Commerce Committee Republicans, Sohn’s performance at the hearing showed how Biden’s efforts to appease his party’s farthest-left flank have often foundered on political reality. Even moderate Democrats admitted Sohn’s record was cause for concern.
Biden first nominated Sohn to fill the FCC’s fifth seat more than 15 months ago, on the same day he nominated Jessica Rosenworcel to serve as the Commission’s Chair. Rosenworcel, a mainstream Democratic policy wonk, was quickly confirmed with broad bipartisan support. Sohn, a far-left activist with an itchy Twitter finger and a penchant for inflammatory rhetoric, instead ran into a firestorm of bipartisan opposition. As a result, her nomination has been returned to the White House multiple times.
Free speech advocates pointed to Sohn’s attacks on Fox News – which she has decried as “state-sponsored propaganda” – and her stated belief that the FCC should consider denying broadcast licenses to conservative-leaning companies like Sinclair Broadcasting. Sohn’s position only exacerbated long-held fears of conservatives that the federal government would weaponize the FCC in order to censor right-leaning outlets.
Even Heidi Heitkamp, a former Democratic Senator of North Dakota, added her voice to the chorus of critics – slamming Sohn’s stated view arguing that federal broadband programs were “focused disproportionately” on rural areas and should instead be re-prioritized for urban needs.
Then there are Sohn’s ethical quagmires. Like back in 2016, when as a senior staffer at the FCC she was caught leaking confidential information to a Politico reporter in hopes of blowing up a bipartisan deal she didn’t support.
Or in 2021, when she signed a lawsuit settlement (on behalf of Locast, the illegal streaming service on whose board she sat) with the very same broadcasters she had just hours earlier been nominated by Biden to regulate.
Or in 2022, when – with her nomination hanging by a thread – she chose to cut a dozen campaign checks to Democratic Senators whose votes she desperately needed to get confirmed.
That’s a stunning break from precedent. Commerce Committee staffers reportedly couldn’t find even a single example of any Trump nominee donating to Senators while their nomination was pending.
Sohn spent the entire hearing on Tuesday insisting the criticism she’s received was nothing more than a series of false attacks and unfair industry-funded personal smears. That might have been more convincing if the toughest questions she faced weren’t Republican Senators simply reading her own tweets back to her, verbatim, and asking her to defend them.
She struggled to do so. At one point, she even argued police officers shouldn’t be mad about her calling them “armed goons” because, in her words, “It’s just one tweet out of 18,000.”
In the stunned pause that followed, you could almost hear White House staffers cracking open their binder of resumes to start looking for Plan B.
Although Sohn is a favorite of the progressive activist community the White House has worked to keep happy during Biden’s first two years in office, Democrats may learn the hard way that cozying up to extremists carries its own political costs.
Vulnerable swing-state Democrats won’t relish the idea of going on record supporting a nominee who embodies the “defund the police” movement the party’s moderates have tried so desperately to memory-hole over the past year.
Here in Maine, both of our U.S. Senators have long cultivated brands of moderate pragmatism. Sohn’s nomination, should it even survive long enough to reach a floor vote, will prove a litmus test for those brands.
In the meantime, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King’s may consider calling up the White House and asking Joe Biden to pull the plug on Sohn’s nomination.