Pai stands by Sinclair decision in face of Trump’s outrage
Democrats at the hearing immediately signaled concern about President Donald Trump meddling with the FCC, which is meant to be a wholly independent agency. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai didn’t bend Wednesday to pressure from President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday night slammed as “disgraceful” and “unfair” the FCC decision that likely killed conservative broadcast giant Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media.
“I stand by our decision,” Pai told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday afternoon during an oversight hearing.
It’s a tense time for Pai. After Trump tapped him to lead the FCC in the earliest days of his administration, Pai has generally avoided any pitfalls with the president. Trump’s broadside now puts Pai in a small club of administration officials caught in the president’s crossfire.
“So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” Trump tweeted. “This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!”
Democrats at the hearing immediately signaled concern about Trump meddling with the FCC, which is meant to be a wholly independent agency. “The only thing that I find disgraceful is the president is still trying to undermine the integrity of dedicated journalists while blatantly trying to enrich his friends and amplify his message at the expense of local news around the country,” Rep. Frank Pallone, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), top Democrat on E&C’s telecom subcommittee, meanwhile said early in the hearing that he’s “extremely concerned” and wanted assurances from Pai that Trump’s viewpoints would not interfere. Wednesday marked Pai’s first appearance before the House panel in nine months, much to Democrats’ frustration. Pai, at the hearing’s outset, diverged from his prepared remarks to defend his judgment in a defiant opening statement — though he was careful not to reference Sinclair or Trump by name.
“The decisions I’ve made haven’t always been easy,” Pai told lawmakers. “But so long as I have the privilege of serving as the chairman of the FCC, I’m going to find the facts, I’m going to follow the law and I’m going to call them like I see them.”
Sinclair, a right-leaning broadcaster, first announced its bid to buy Tribune in May of last year, a deal only made possible by Pai’s action to restore a loophole allowing the merger to sidestep federal limits on broadcast scale. Democrats have savaged Pai over the last year as a Sinclair backer who was bending the rules to help the company.
But all four sitting FCC commissioners voted last week to doom the companies to a hearing before an administrative law judge, a procedure widely viewed as a deal killer.
Pai faced several questions on the merger review from Pallone. He said he will disclose any outreach the agency may get from the White House. The administrative hearing process will continue without disruption, he added.
Pallone said he was particularly troubled that Trump would suggest the FCC should make merger decisions based on ideological content. Pai responded by referring back to a statement he made in 2011, when first going through the confirmation process to be a commissioner in the GOP minority.
“For every transaction that is before me, I will look at the facts, I will apply the law, and I will reach the judgment that is in the public interest, nothing more, nothing less,” he said then.