LOS ANGELES—Nathan Simington, the former telecommunications industry corporate lawyer nominated by Donald Trump to serve on the Federal Communications Commission, faced a series of tough questions at his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday — but he refused to say he would recuse himself from voting on issues relating to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, the law known as the “First Amendment of the Internet.”
As a result, Simington now finds his nomination in jeopardy, from one senator who says he will place a “hold” on the confirmation proceedings.
Section 230 allows platforms to post a nearly unlimited range of user content without fear of legal liability, a provision that makes the law especially important for adult content, as well as other controversial material. But the law has come under attack from Trump — as well as from both sides of the aisle in Congress.
President-elect Joe Biden has, like Trump, said he supports repeal of Section 230, albeit for different reasons than the outgoing president.
But Trump has been especially outspoken, tweeting repeatedly about his desire to see Section 230 repealed. He also issued as order to the FCC to “review” the law. Simington was instrumental in authoring that order. And on Tuesday, Trump took to his Twitter account to demand that Simington be confirmed by the Senate “ASAP.”
But when asked at the hearing by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal whether he would commit to recusing himself from any votes on Section 230, Simington refused. Instead, the nominee said that he would consult the FCC’s ethics counsel on whether he should recuse.
Blumenthal the following day said that, due to Simington’s refusal to bow out of Section 230 deliberations, he would block the nomination until Simington changed his mind.
“During your time working at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, you effectively acted as an arm of the president,” Blumenthal told Simington at the hearing. “Trump’s tweet makes it clear what he expects from you, which I think should deeply trouble us all.”
Simington is also opposed by digital civil liberties organizations, such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation, and Fight For The Future.
“We are in the middle of a crushing pandemic where hundreds of millions of people are at the mercy of their internet service providers while they work from home and send their kids to school online,” said FFTF Deputy Director Evan Greer. “It’s unthinkable that in this moment, especially in light of the election results, that the Senate would confirm an unqualified crony to the agency that is supposed to provide basic oversight.”
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