WASHINGTON — The Clinton administration appears to have fumbled again in its efforts to nominate a replacement for FCC chairman Reed Hundt.
Although the latest White House pick, FCC general counsel William Kennard, is well-liked and well-respected in Washington, sources say Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) feels slighted by the way the nomination was handled and could cause trouble.
Sources say Hollings was irate when he discovered that Kennard had been tapped for the top job at the FCC from the press. Although Hollings had held discussions with both President Clinton and Vice President Gore about replacing Hundt, he did not learn about Kennard’s planned promotion until Thursday, sources say.
Hollings also felt snubbed because the White House attempted to relay the decision on Kennard via staff. Because of his personal interest, Hollings expected a call from either President Clinton or Vice President Gore, sources say.
Clinton administration officials concede that news of Kennard’s nomination slipped out before they had time to notify Hollings. However, they insist that an honest effort was made to inform Hollings once the decision had been reached.
Hollings’ mood is critical because the Clinton administration was forced to abandon its first choice, White House staffer Kathleen Wallman, because of his objections. Wallman was dumped just two days after Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) made a public commitment to block any nomination that is unacceptable to Hollings.
For the past several months Hollings has been pushing for his candidate, his former aide Ralph Everett. Everett’s appointment would not only increase Hollings’ influence at the FCC, it would reduce the Clinton administration’s.
During the last 3-1/2 years Hundt has been perceived as a surrogate for Vice President Gore when it comes to telecommunications policy. Hundt’s close ties to the White House have proved to be an effective weapon in resisting congressional efforts to rein in the FCC on several fronts, especially in the area of content regulation.
There are currently four seats at the FCC slotted for turnover, so Hollings’ views will be watched closely in the coming weeks. In addition to Hundt’s replacement, the Senate must also sign off on presidential nominations for two Republican seats and two Democratic seats. The only holdover will be Democrat Susan Ness.
Under current rules, the president may only appoint three commissioners from his own party to the five-member FCC.
Kennard had been tapped for a commission seat until last week, when he was upgraded to chairman. Also officially nominated by the Clinton administration is Republican House staffer Howard Furchtgott-Roth. Waiting in the wings are Justice Dept. staffer Michael Powell, a Republican, and New Mexico public utility regulator Gloria Tristani, a Democrat.
Both Kennard, who is African-American, and Tristani, who is Hispanic, received the endorsement of civil rights advocate Jesse Jackson Friday.