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 SchumerMcConnell-backed Super PAC says nominating Roy Moore would be 'gift wrapping' seat to Dems McConnell vows to 'vigorously' oppose Moore's Senate bid Pelosi: Trump delay on Harriet Tubman is 'an insult to the hopes of millions' MORE (D-N.Y.) announced Tuesday that all 49 Democrats have endorsed legislation to preserve the rules. With Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Hillicon Valley: Senate bill would force companies to disclose value of user data | Waters to hold hearing on Facebook cryptocurrency | GOP divided on election security bills | US tracking Russian, Iranian social media campaigns Stephen King: 'It's time for Susan Collins to go' 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 MarkeySenate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Young activists press for change in 2020 election Hillicon Valley: House panel advances election security bill | GOP senator targets YouTube with bill on child exploitation | Hicks told Congress Trump camp felt 'relief' after release of Clinton docs | Commerce blacklists five Chinese tech groups 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 TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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. DoyleHouse Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality WHIP LIST: Number of Democrats backing Trump impeachment inquiry rises Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE (D-Pa.) announced Tuesday that he had lined up 82 co-sponsors for his companion CRA bill, including House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Lawmakers 'failed us' says ICE chief Pelosi, Democratic leaders seek to quell liberal revolt over border bill 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 HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary 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.”