President Joe Biden’s pick for the empty seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Gigi Sohn, is set to have her confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, where she is likely to face stiff Republican opposition and questions regarding her activist past.
Biden nominated Sohn, former FCC counsel under Tom Wheeler and a fellow at Georgetown Law, to serve as FCC Commissioner in late October, along with current acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to the agency’s permanent position. Senate Commerce Committee Republicans have already signaled their opposition to her nomination.
“Ms. Sohn has been before my House committee many times as an activist witness,” Republican Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn said in a statement shared with the Daily Caller News Foundation. “I have serious concerns regarding her placement on the FCC and look forward to having her appear before the committee.”
Blackburn previously told the DCNF that she thought Sohn would use her position to “silence dissent,” a view endorsed by other Senate Commerce Republicans, including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who previously told the DCNF that Sohn’s “hostility to free speech and constitutional rights is breathtaking.”
Republicans have pointed to Sohn’s statements regarding conservatives and conservative media as particularly troubling.
Sohn once tweeted that “Fox News has had the most negative impact on our democracy” and called the station “state-sponsored propaganda,” demanding a government “hearing” into its broadcasts. She also promoted a petition by left-wing advocacy group Free Press which urged the FCC to crack down on alleged misinformation surrounding COVID-19, citing examples from then-President Donald Trump and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
Sohn also characterized Republican opposition to certain FCC subsidies as racism, saying the programs “help poor people and help brown and black people.”
Several Republican Senate aides confirmed to the DCNF that Sohn is unlikely to receive any Republican votes and that other Senate Commerce Committee Republicans, including from Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and John Thune of South Dakota, who came out publicly in opposition to Sohn’s nomination.
“She’s very left, she’s going to be a heavy hand in regulation, very heavy in net neutrality,” Thune told Politico. “She’s going to be very much, I think, Big Government stepping on the scales.”
“Gigi Sohn is a complete political ideologue who has disdain for conservatives. She would be a complete nightmare for the country when it comes to regulating the public airwaves,” Graham tweeted.
Republican North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis sent a letter Tuesday to President Joe Biden asking him to withdraw Sohn’s nomination, characterizing her as an “anti-copyright activist.”
Sohn’s activist past is likely to come up at the hearing. Sohn co-founded and served as president of tech policy think tank Public Knowledge, which receives funding from prominent left-wing billionaires, including Pierre Omidyar and George Soros, in addition to being a strong advocate for net neutrality.
As FCC counsel during the Obama administration, Sohn gave preferential treatment to left-wing net neutrality activist groups, personally emailing Fight For the Future co-founder Holmes Wilson to facilitate the posting of public comments regarding the net neutrality debate on the FCC’s website.
Fight For the Future was instrumental in organizing net neutrality protests of former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s decision to repeal Obama-era net neutrality provisions, some of which involved derogatory remarks towards Pai and his family, though the organization strongly condemned the harassment Pai received.
Sohn has also criticism from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), a broadcast network industry trade group with a powerful lobbying presence in Washington, which called attention to Sohn’s work at Locast, a now-defunctstreaming service that illegally re-transmitted television broadcasts. Locast was shut down in September after violating copyright law and being sued by broadcasters who it agreed to pay $32 million
“Although NAB does not currently oppose the nomination of Gigi Sohn, we have serious concerns about her involvement as one of three directors of the illegal streaming service Locast,” NAB president and chief executive Gordon Smith said in a statement, asking that Sohn update the ethics agreement to note the “inherent conflict presented by her recent leadership position at Locast and her potential role as an FCC commissioner.”
“NAB is actively working with members of the Senate Commerce Committee and the White House to address this conflict and requests that Ms. Sohn submit an amended ethics agreement that meaningfully and effectively addresses this clear and troubling conflict,” Smith said.
However, Sohn found unlikely allies in right-wing broadcasters Newsmax and One America News Network (OANN), who have both come to her defense and rebutted Republicans’ criticisms.
“Gigi has been very consistent in her views for diversity in media,” Charles Herring, OANN president, said in a statement. Herring said that Sohn “believes in the First Amendment and the advantages of a strong and open media for the benefit of our democracy.”
“While I don’t always agree with the nominees on many policy matters, Newsmax fully supports the commission’s mandate to promote diversity, localism, and competition in the marketplace,” Newsmax chief executive Chris Ruddy said in a statement. “Newsmax believes both nominees are committed to that mandate and I urge the Senate to confirm the nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn.”
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