By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s nominee for a key fifth seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Gigi Sohn, withdrew on Tuesday, dealing a setback for Democrats who have been unable to take control of the telecom regulator for more than two years.
Sohn confirmed Tuesday she was withdrawing after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he would vote against confirming her.
“We appreciate Gigi Sohn’s candidacy for this important role. She would have brought tremendous intellect and experience,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday adding her withdrawal was “clearly unfortunate.”
Since January 2021, Democrats have been unable to command a majority of the five-member FCC, stalling the party’s efforts to reinstate landmark net neutrality rules revoked under Republican President Donald Trump. The open internet laws seek to bar internet service providers from blocking or slowing traffic or offering paid fast lanes.
“The FCC deadlock, now over two years long, will remain so for a long time,” Sohn said in a statement. “Unfortunately the American people are the real losers here. As someone who has advocated for my entire career for affordable, accessible broadband for every American, it is ironic that the 2-2 FCC will remain sidelined at the most consequential opportunity for broadband in our lifetimes.”
Democrats hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the U.S. Senate but two Democrats are currently absent because of health issues.
Sohn who was first nominated in October 2021, had her third hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee in February.
Sohn said in 2021 she “could not have imagined that legions of cable and media industry lobbyists, their bought-and-paid-for surrogates, and dark money political groups with bottomless pockets would distort my over 30-year history as a consumer advocate into an absurd caricature of blatant lies.”
Republicans in February offered a sweeping denunciation of Sohn on a number of grounds and accused her of misleading Congress, which she rejected.
Many Democrats said Republicans were doing the bidding of powerful telecom companies that did not want to face regulation from the FCC.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz said Tuesday Sohn’s withdrawal demonstrates the need for a nominee “committed to serving as an even-handed and truly independent regulator.”
In July 2021, Biden signed an executive order encouraging the FCC to reinstate the open internet net neutrality rules.
At least two other Democrats were undecided on Sohn’s nomination.
Sohn joins several other high-profile Biden nominees who withdrew from consideration, including Neera Tanden, who had been tapped to lead the Office of Management and Budget and Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was nominated to become the top bank regulator at the Federal Reserve.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Katharine Jackson; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Leslie Adler and Raju Gopalakrishnan)