On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee voted to advance the nomination of Nathan Simington, a Republican in favor of greater government oversight of speech on the internet, to the Federal Communications Commission. Simington’s nomination now awaits a floor vote for final approval.
President Donald Trump nominated Simington to be the next Republican FCC Commissioner in September. If approved, Simington would fill Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s seat, leaving the agency at 2-2 deadlock when Chairman Ajit Pai steps down on January 20th. Without a Democratic majority at the FCC, the Biden administration will likely have difficulties rolling through any major policy measures until another nominee is vetted and approved.
In August, Trump abruptly withdrew O’Rielly’s renomination for an additional term at the FCC after the commissioner gave a speech opposing changes to Section 230, a hotly contested internet law the Trump administration has sought to repeal over the last few years.
Simington is viewed as a friend to the Trump administration’s desire to make changes to Section 230. In September, The Verge first reported that Simington, a senior adviser at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), played a significant role in the agency’s social media regulation agenda. When Trump signed his social media executive order in May, it required the NTIA to craft a petition that would call on the FCC to reinterpret Section 230. Simington confirmed to senators during his confirmation that he played a role in editing the petition and in public relations.
After Wednesday’s vote, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called out Republicans for “rushing to approve” Simington’s nomination. Blumenthal cited answers Simington provided to his office following the first confirmation hearing, suggesting that the Republican played a more significant role in the Trump administration’s social media agenda than he initially let on.
“We have learned that he sought to enlist Fox News to quote ‘help get the FCC on board, more quickly and thereby ensure a freer and fairer social media landscape, going into the elections this fall’ end quote,” Blumenthal said on Wednesday.
“This involvement to me sounds significant and I do not support his nomination,” Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said on Wednesday.