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Politicking delays FCC nomination again

The nomination of Jonathan Adelstein to fill the open slot on the Federal Communications Commission once again has been waylaid by ire over the Democrats' defeat of a judicial nominee, making it is unlikely the FCC nominee will get a vote on the Senate floor until close to adjournment, if then, sources say.

Republican anger over the Democrats nixing President Bush's nomination of Priscilla Owen for a federal circuit court judgeship, combined with the press of homeland security, appropriations legislation and talk of a war on Iraq mean that no one is even talking about Adelstein's nomination, Senate sources say.

Adelstein's nomination could be considered amid the rush of activity at the session's end. In the desire to leave town, lawmakers often are willing to dispense with prolonged debate and vote, possibly creating a window for the nomination.

The worst-case scenario would be inaction this year, another vote by the Senate Commerce Committee next year and further delays. That could leave Adelstein barely unpacked at the commission before he would have to go through the procedural hoops again. The term he is seeking to fill expires June 30, 2003.

The addition of another Democrat to join FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, the lone Democrat and often the lone dissenter, could change the voting dynamics at the agency, but only marginally. Right now, FCC Chairman Michael Powell is assured of Kathleen Abernathy's vote and has to work a bit to get the vote of Commissioner Kevin Martin, a source familiar with FCC dynamics said.

The question remains whether Martin will side with his fellow Republicans or join forces with the two Democrats on some issues and tip the balance, the source said, noting that it usually takes more work to get that third vote with the full five members on board.

Having another Democrat also could help Copps get his message across because it is easy to become marginalized when you are the only one complaining, the source said.

The seat was left open a year ago with the departure of Gloria Tristani, who resigned to run for Congress against Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M. President Bush nominated Adelstein, the legislative assistant to Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, in February.

The nomination was not forwarded to the Senate until July, in part because of backlash over the failed nomination of District Judge Charles Pickering for the same U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals seat Owens later was nominated to fill.