FCC chair mum on stepping down when Obama leaves

FCC chair mum on stepping down when Obama leaves
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Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler says it is still too early to make a firm commitment to step down at the end of President Obama's term. 

During a C-SPAN interview recorded Thursday, the chairman was asked multiple times whether he would step down and why he had so far declined to make a firm commitment. He brushed off a question on whether he fears the commitment would make him a "lame duck."

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"I just think it's early," he said during a taping of "The Communicators" series. "We're 10 months away from a new inauguration. Okay. We'll deal with things as we get closer to that."

Wheeler said the FCC still has a number of unfinished items for the year, from the spectrum incentive auction to new Internet privacy rules and a cable set-top box proposal. 

The issue of the chairman's tenure came into the spotlight during testimony at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing last month. It was the first question he was asked by senators at the hearing, and he has been pressed a number of times since then. 

Decades of tradition dictate that the chairman of the independent agency steps down when a member of the opposite party is elected or when asked under a new president. The commission is divided between Democrats and Republicans, and the tradition is meant to ensure that a new president can pick a preferred commissioner to lead the majority. 

"What did I say at that hearing?" Wheeler said. "I said I fully understood what tradition was but that it was too early to make a firm commitment."

He would not speculate on what it would be like serving under a Republican president. 

Last month, Senate Commerce Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump GOP shifting on unemployment benefits as jobless numbers swell MORE (R-S.D.) hinted that Wheeler's firm commitment could help ease the re-nomination of his fellow Democratic commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel. A number of Republicans members have a hold on her renomination. 

Wheeler appeared skeptical last week that his firm commitment would free up Rosenworcel's nomination, calling it "supposition." Echoing Senate Democrats, he said that Republicans had gone back on their previous commitment to move her nomination.