Commerce panel OKs FCC noms

Abernathy, Martin and Copps await full Senate OK

WASHINGTON — Near chaos continued Thursday as Hollywood lobbyists tried to make sense of the Democrats’ coup in the U.S. Senate.

Unusual day began with Sen. James Jeffords (R-Vt.) announcing he will indeed bolt the Republican Party and become an independent. His promise to vote to organize with the Democrats gives the party the leadership of the Senate.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who for now still chairs the key Commerce Committee, raced against the clock to get President Bush’s three nominees to the Federal Communications Commission confirmed before the switch in power. New FCC topper Michael Powell’s name is among the bunch, even though he’s already in power.

Noms breeze through

In a hastily called meeting off the Senate floor late in the day, the Commerce Committee approved the nominees, who were never controversial and were never in danger because of the upset in the Senate; rather, McCain didn’t want a holdup because of the bureaucratic nightmare that is likely to ensue in the coming days.

Names now need to be endorsed by the full Senate before Republicans Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin can join Powell to form a 3-2 majority at the reg agency. Democrat Michael Copps is Bush’s third FCC pick.

When the actual switch in power takes effect is something of an uncertain. Jeffords said he will wait until the president’s tax bill is passed out of Congress. That could be today or next week.

Hollywood lobbyists were running around Capitol Hill on Thursday, meeting with lawmakers and keeping up to date on the latest developments. They said many of the issues facing the entertainment industry can’t be divided along party lines, so the switch isn’t cataclysmic.

‘A big, big deal’

“It’s still, however, a big, big deal,” one TV net exec said.

Entertainment/media toppers said it will be a different ball game dealing with South Carolina Sen. Ernest Hollings, who is the Democrat in line to head the Commerce Committee, vs. McCain.

Most immediately, lobbyists expect three upcoming hearings to be postponed. On June 12, McCain had scheduled a hearing on media consolidation and ownership; June 13, media violence; and June 14, sports rights.