November 22, 2016 —
With the election of Donald J. Trump to be president of the United States comes change at the FCC. The FCC is directed by five commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The president designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairman. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party.
Chairman Tom Wheeler’s term expires June 30, 2018. The FCC chairman usually leaves if the party controlling the White House shifts to the opposite party. On Nov. 17, Wheeler stated his intention to resign, but he said he has not decided his departure date. Sooner or later, Trump will appoint a Republican successor and the political majority would change. Trump could designate the new commissioner as chairman, which would be typical, or he could designate a current Republican commissioner as chairman.
Wheeler could exit the chairmanship and remain as a commissioner, but it seems apparent from his remarks that he does not intend to do so. I don’t recall any previous chairman doing so.
The FCC has some commissioners who are continuing to serve beyond the expiration of their terms, which the law allows. Their time on the commission may come to an end when the current Congress adjourns at the end of the year. This could leave the commission with vacancies to be filled by the new president’s appointees.
The new president has authority to appoint people to fill nearly 1,200 executive-level jobs with Senate approval and another 321 that do not require Senate confirmation. When the FCC might receive his attention is unclear. But sooner or later, the FCC will have a Republican chairman, and a majority of commissioners will be Republican.