FCC chairman won't make 'ironclad commitment' to leave under new president

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler said Wednesday that he would not make an “ironclad commitment” to step down under a new president during an awkward exchange with a top Republican lawmaker.

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“FCC chairmen have traditionally resigned from the FCC when a new president is inaugurated,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn ThuneApple, Google enlisted for FCC robocall effort Fidelity denies lobbying for student loan tax break Republicans see fresh chance to overhaul telecom law MORE (R-S.D.) said. “That enables the new president to nominate a chairman of the FCC who is from the same party as a new president.

“So my question — you can probably figure out where I’m going with this — is do you intend to respect that tradition and resign from the FCC when the new president takes office unless explicitly asked to stay on?”

Wheeler, whose term technically expires in 2018, would not commit to leaving his post next January but suggested he realizes that would be in line with the norm.

“It’s a ways off,” he said. “I understand precedent; I understand expectations. I also understand that 10 or 11 months is a long time. So it’s probably not the wisest thing in the world to do to make some kind of ironclad commitment, but I understand the point you’re making.”

“And you understand the tradition that historically has been observed with regard to that?” Thune asked.

"I understand the point,” Wheeler responded.

The exchange highlights the shadow cast by the 2016 presidential race over actions by the executive branch.

Wheeler has reason not to let lawmakers paint him as idle during the last year of the Obama administration. The FCC, under his leadership, is currently pursuing an aggressive agenda.

Last month, the agency moved to formally consider new rules governing the set-top boxes provided by cable and satellite providers that would give outside manufacturers, like Google and TiVo, easier access to the market.

It is also expected to vote on an item soon that would expand the Lifeline subsidy program for low-income people to cover broadband service and begin a rulemaking process on new privacy rules for Internet service providers.