Democrats search for 51st net neutrality vote

Democrats search for 51st net neutrality vote
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are hunting for one more Republican vote to prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from repealing net neutrality rules.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDems must stop picking foxes to guard the financial hen house Schumer warns 'House moderates' against immigration compromise bill Trump knocks Schumer, touts North Korea summit in early morning tweet MORE (D-N.Y.) announced Tuesday that all 49 Democrats have endorsed legislation to preserve the rules. With Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril Romney backs Laura Bush on border: 'We need a more compassionate answer' Amnesty International rips family separation policy: 'This is nothing short of torture' MORE (Maine) already on board, Democrats need the support of just one more Republican to ensure the legislation is sent to the House.

The bill, which will be introduced by Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyLawmakers prep for coming wave of self-driving cars Trump taps Hill veteran for White House environment job Dems unveil push to secure state voting systems MORE (D-Mass.), would use a legislative tool called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to roll back the FCC’s vote last month scrapping the 2015 net neutrality rules. The rules have required internet service providers (ISP) to treat all web traffic equally, and supporters say they’re essential to preventing companies such as Comcast and Verizon from abusing their control over internet access.

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The Democrats plan to use procedural rules under the CRA to force a vote on their bill in the coming months.

Even though the bill is unlikely to pass the House or be signed by President TrumpDonald John Trump20 weeks out from midterms, Dems and GOP brace for surprises Sessions responds to Nazi comparisons: 'They were keeping the Jews from leaving' Kim Jong Un to visit Beijing this week MORE, Democrats see an opportunity to capitalize on the outcry surrounding the FCC repeal and force Republicans to vote on net neutrality ahead of the midterm elections.

“With full caucus support, it’s clear that Democrats are committed to fighting to keep the internet from becoming the Wild West where ISPs are free to offer premium service to only the wealthiest customers while average consumers are left with far inferior options,” Schumer said in a statement Tuesday.

He added, “When we force a vote on this bill, Republicans in Congress will — for the first time — have the opportunity to right the administration’s wrong and show the American people whose side they’re on: big ISPs and major corporations or consumers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.”

On the House side, Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleWhat the net neutrality repeal means Hillicon Valley: States defy FCC on net neutrality | Facebook gave Chinese companies access to user data | Genealogy service hacked | 26 states get election cyber funds Dems demand FCC oversight hearing MORE (D-Pa.) announced Tuesday that he had lined up 82 co-sponsors for his companion CRA bill, including House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiTrump digs in amid uproar on zero tolerance policy Trump surprises with consumer agency pick On The Money — Sponsored by Prudential — Trump nominates budget official Kraninger for consumer chief | Senate votes to block Trump ZTE deal | Stocks fall on trade tensions | House panel moves to markup budget MORE (D-Calif.). But the procedural rules for CRA bills are different in the House; Democrats do not have the power to force a vote by securing co-sponsors.

That’s left the Senate as the primary venue for the net neutrality fight. 

Supporters of the rules looking for the 51st vote for the CRA bill could have several targets.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), for example, who made headlines last year by bucking the administration on a handful of judicial nominees, said last week that he is undecided on Markey’s bill.

“There a lot of nuances, and there are very good arguments on both sides,” Kennedy said to reporters, according to the National Journal. “I’m honestly undecided. Right now, to me, it’s a very, very close call.”

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur Heller20 weeks out from midterms, Dems and GOP brace for surprises Trump to attend fundraiser for Heller Dems seek to seize on data privacy as midterm issue MORE (R-Nev.), who’s seen as one of the most vulnerable Republicans in this year’s midterm election, is another possible target in the net neutrality push. Spokespeople for Kennedy and Heller did not respond to requests for comment.

Still, Republicans have largely opposed the Obama-era rules as heavy-handed regulation that has stifled investment from broadband companies. They say existing antitrust and consumer protection laws are already sufficient to secure an open internet.

Democrats and their allies disagree and think Republicans will pay a political price for that stance.

Fight for the Future, a group that helped rally internet users to protest the FCC vote, has already launched an online scorecard to track members’ positions on the CRA, directing supporters to reach out to their representatives.

“Net neutrality is going to be an election issue in 2018 and every member of Congress knows it,” Evan Greer, the group’s campaign director, said in a statement.

“The CRA is steamrolling through the Senate because lawmakers are reading the writing on the wall that it’s the only viable legislation on the table. Cleanly reversing the FCC’s unpopular and illegitimate decision is, on substance, the correct policy move, and the only one that has support from voters,” Greer said.

It could be months before the net neutrality bill reaches the Senate floor. The FCC’s final order still needs to receive approval from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and must be published in the Federal Register before Congress can review it. At that point, lawmakers will have 60 legislative days to take up the CRA bills.

Even if the effort in Congress fails, as expected, the FCC’s repeal order will be facing court challenges for years to come. That will allow Democrats to extend the shelf life of a political battle in which they see themselves on the winning side.

“Republicans now have a clear choice — be on the right side of history and stand with the American people who support a free and open internet, or hold hands with the special interests who want to control the internet for their own profit,” Markey said in a statement Tuesday. “I urge them to join the majority of Americans, embrace the bipartisanship of net neutrality, and support this resolution.”