Obama begins to move on FCC appointments

by David Hatch, National Journal/Congress Daily

The White House is quietly assembling a list of two -- and potentially three -- more candidates for the FCC now that President Obama announced Tuesday that he wants his chief technology adviser and close confidante Julius Genachowski as chairman.

Mignon Clyburn, a state regulator and daughter of House Majority Whip Clyburn, is a leading contender for Democratic commissioner. The younger Clyburn, who has served on the Public Service Commission of South Carolina for more than a decade, declined to comment.

She would replace Jonathan Adelstein, who is under serious consideration to run the Rural Utilities Service, an Agriculture Department division that issues loans and grants for telecom, energy and water treatment projects. The RUS is set to receive $2.5 billion in loans from the economic stimulus package to promote broadband deployment.

Adelstein, whose term expired in June but can remain through 2009 pending renomination, would exit when a successor is confirmed. Sources said the Obama administration doesn't plan to renew his term because it wants a more diverse mix of regulators. Adelstein's office declined to comment.

Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, along with Senate Minority Leader McConnell, are playing an active role in the decision-making to fill a Republican FCC slot, with Hutchison expected soon to recommend a pick to McConnell. The White House makes the final call on who gets the nod.

With three or four positions in contention this year, the Obama administration is poised to leave its imprimatur on the agency, a hotbed of acrimony and partisanship during the Bush years. Three regulators now serve on the normally five-member commission: Acting Chairman Michael Copps and Adelstein, both Democrats, and GOP member Robert McDowell.

Genachowski would replace Kevin Martin, a Republican who became chairman in 2005 and left on Jan. 20, while Clyburn likely would be paired with a GOP choice for the seat vacated in January by Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate.

There's no clear frontrunner for the GOP spot, but contenders include Meredith Baker, a Texas native who ran a telecom-related division of the Commerce Department under the Bush administration. She is the daughter-in-law of former Secretary of State James Baker.

Other prospects include Lee Carosi Dunn, general counsel for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Hilda Legg, former RUS administrator and previous McConnell staffer; and FCC Deputy General Counsel Ajit Pai, who's been endorsed by a dozen senators.

Additional prospects include Mike O'Reilly, policy analyst with Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Ensign of Nevada; Bryan Tramont, a telecommunications attorney who was chief of staff to former FCC Chairman Michael Powell; and A.B. Cruz III, executive vice president and chief legal officer at Scripps Networks Interactive. Other names have been floated and sources cautioned that the process is fluid and that a surprise nominee could still emerge.

A wild card is the seat held by McDowell, whose term expires June 30 though he can remain through 2010. His reappointment could be grouped with the others, or coupled with the renomination of Copps when his term ends in June 2010.

Alternatively, Republicans could recommend someone to fill McDowell's seat, forcing him to leave when the replacement is confirmed. While McDowell's political patron, former Senate Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has left the Senate, the commissioner has won praise for distancing himself from Martin, a lightning rod for controversy, and fostering good relations with his Democratic agency colleagues. His office declined to comment.

article originally published at http://www.nationaljournal.com/congressdaily/cda_20090304_7778.php.

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