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FCC nominee Wheeler clears Senate Commerce panel vote

U.S. President Barack Obama (unseen) announces venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) at the Stat
U.S. President Barack Obama (unseen) announces venture capitalist Tom Wheeler to head the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) at the Stat

By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tom Wheeler, President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Federal Communications Commission, moved a step closer to confirmation on Tuesday after receiving the approval of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Some Republicans on the panel wanted to delay the nomination of a new Democrat to chair the FCC until Obama also tapped a Republican commissioner to fill the last vacancy on the five-member agency, but the committee approved Wheeler by voice vote.

An industry veteran and former lobbyist, Wheeler is expected to get the full Senate's confirmation, but the chamber is unlikely to take up his nomination until after Congress returns from the August recess.

The Senate is expected to vote on Wheeler's nomination in tandem with the yet-to-be-named Republican nominee. Longtime congressional staffer Michael O'Rielly is considered the front-runner for the open Republican FCC commissioner position.

Senator John Thune, the Commerce Committee's top Republican, said the Republican nomination is "pending at the White House" and he hoped to receive it from the White House "very soon."

Industry sources say Senate Republicans have recommended O'Rielly's name to Obama. The president has the final say, but traditionally a president accepts the opposing party's candidate to be paired with his choice of chairman.

O'Rielly is a top aide to Senator John Cornyn of Texas and had been technology policy adviser to former Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire and an aide to former House Commerce Committee Chairman Representative Tom Bliley of Virginia.

Wheeler is a venture capitalist who has advised Obama and the FCC on telecom issues. From 1979 to 1984, he ran the National Cable Television Association and later headed the wireless industry group CTIA until 2004. During Obama's presidential campaigns, Wheeler was a major fundraiser.

Many in the industry who have worked with Wheeler describe him as a masterful negotiator, but also a strong-willed decision-maker. At the Commerce Committee hearing in June, Wheeler navigated multiple controversial issues with promises of careful review once in office.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas on Tuesday warned that he might hold up Wheeler's confirmation if the nominee does not provide more specific responses to the multiple inquiries Republicans have made about his views on the FCC's power to force disclosure of political donors behind election TV ads.

If approved, Wheeler would replace former Chairman Julius Genachowski who has joined the Aspen Institute think tank. O'Rielly, if nominated and approved, would replace Commissioner Robert McDowell who has joined the Hudson Institute think tank.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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