Senate Confirms Thomas Wheeler As FCC Chairman

1:31 PM PST 10/29/2013 by Alex Ben Block
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Tom Wheeler and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz

UPDATED: President Obama's nominee was unanimously confirmed Tuesday evening after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz lifted his hold on the vote.

Editor's note: The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed Thomas Wheeler as FCC chairman Tuesday evening. Earlier:

The U.S. Senate could confirm President Obama’s nominee for the chairmanship of the FCC, Thomas Wheeler, as soon as this week.

The last impediment was removed Tuesday when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he had met with Wheeler, and was lifting the hold he had put on the nominee almost two weeks ago.

In a statement, Cruz said: "In our meeting this afternoon, Mr. Wheeler stated that he had heard the unambiguous message that trying to impose the requirements of the DISCLOSE Act, absent congressional action would imperil the Commission's vital statutory responsibilities, and he explicitly stated that doing so was 'not a priority.' Based on those representations, I have lifted my hold on his nomination, and I look forward to working with him on the FCC to expand jobs and economic growth."

The reference to the DISCLOSE Act is the key to Cruz’s previous objection. The Tea Party favorite had said he wanted Wheeler to assure him the FCC would not use its existing authority to force full disclosure of the sources of funding for political ads on broadcast TV that are placed by political action committees. Cruz is against having the names of contributors to those committees made public.

The DISCLOSE Act, which twice has been proposed by Democrats and twice defeated by Congress, would have mandated that certain political action committees and other outside groups disclose the names of any donor who has given more that $10,000, among other changes to current law. Republicans have led the charge against the act.

EARLIER: How Long Will Sen. Cruz Keep the FCC On Hold?

Cruz was under mounting pressure to remove his hold and let Wheeler's nomination move forward. On Monday, say two sources, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) committed to pursuing a vote on Wheeler regardless of what Cruz decided to do. On Monday night, Reid filed papers in the Senate to set up a cloture vote -- which would require 60 votes to overrule Cruz if he continued to block the appointment.

A source says Reid told Cruz he is welcome to vote against Wheeler if he wished, but he would not be allowed to hold up the entire process (which includes confirming the Republican nominee for the FCC Michael O'Rielly as well).

If there had been a cloture vote, Cruz would have faced a backlash from some in his own party. Sources say Cruz has become unpopular with some Republican senators over this stand and his earlier efforts in the government shutdown. It only would have taken five or six Republican votes, along with the Democrats, to pass a cloture vote.

Wheeler is a Democrat and was hand-picked by President Obama for this post. Wheeler, who has run two large industry associations in the past, helped raise funds for the president’s re-election and served on a White House transition team after the election. 

The FCC has been hamstrung by having only three of five members, and by not having a permanent chairman to help guide it in deliberations about a number of major issues facing the broadcast and communications industries.

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