Senator Bob Menendez rips FCC ‘inaction’ over Tegna deal: Sources

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The FCC leadership is facing a potential reshuffle as a powerful Democratic senator threatened to block a key confirmation if the agency did not vote on a stalled cable deal, sources told The Post.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez railed on the Senate floor about the FCC jeopardizing Soo Kim’s Standard General’s offer to buy Tegna, the owner of 64 television stations, “by essentially doing nothing.”

Kim, a Korean-American who grew up in Queens and attended Stuyvesant High School, agreed to pay $8.6 billion for the media company in February 2022. The deal makes Kim the largest minority owner of a channel group in the country.

“We need the FCC commissioners to push for more diversity in media ownership, not just in words but in deeds,” Menendez said in his April 24 speech.

“For example, I will not support nominees for the FCC if they are not willing to support diversity.”

The bureau has been in chaos for nearly two years as President Biden tried to push Gigi Sohn to fill the fifth seat on the partisan board.

Last month, she was forced to withdraw after Sen. Joe Manchin said he would not support Biden’s overly progressive candidate.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez demanded that the FCC end the standoff and vote on Soo Kim's offer to buy Tegna.
New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez demanded that the FCC end the standoff and vote on Soo Kim’s offer to buy Tegna.
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The setback left Democratic Chair Jessica Rosenworcel essentially in control of the evenly divided FCC.

However, the term of the bureau’s other Democrat, Geoffrey Starks, has expired.

“My first question to every FCC nominee I meet is what actions will you take if confirmed to expand diversity in media ownership,” Menendez said.

FCC President Jessica Rosenworcel speaking
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel must decide whether Menendez is bluffing about potentially holding up an important confirmation vote.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Or if they’re looking for a current FCC commissioner [another term] what actions have you taken to expand broadcast ownership diversity?”

Starks, who joined the FCC in 2019, will be forced to leave at the end of the year if he is not reconfirmed, putting the bureau’s voting rights in the hands of the two Republicans — and stepping up the threat of Menendez.

“He essentially said he would vote against Starks’ nomination unless Starks backs a Tegna vote,” a DC insider told The Post.

Another source added, “Jessica has to decide if this was a bluff or not.”

The Democrats have a slim 50-49 lead in the Senate and any defection to a confirmation from Starks could cost him his seat.

Soo Kim’s Standard General agreed to buy Tegna for $8.6 billion.
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“Losing Starks to the Commission would effectively shut down the FCC,” the Washington Analysis, a research firm, wrote after Menendez’s speech.

“Especially after the Gigi Sohn FCC nomination debacle, the White House was counting on a drama-free process with Starks. … It is unlikely that it will be before the end of the year to find, vet, nominate and confirm another Democratic nominee.”

Meanwhile, two days after Menendez’s ultimatum, the Tegna deal suffered a legal blow when an FCC administrative law judge denied Standard General’s request to hold an expedited hearing on whether or not to hold a vote.

If the Senate does not confirm Geoffrey Starks for another term before the end of the year, he will lose his seat.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The judge said she would not consider the motion until funding for the heavily indebted Tegna merger expires May 22.

The judge wants to see if Tegna can get new funding and offered to meet again on June 1, sources said.

There are some powerful forces in the Democratic party who have opposed the merger.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi wrote to Rosenworcel last October, saying she was deeply concerned that the deal would increase cable bills, reduce local news coverage and spur job cuts.

In a written response to the FCC, Standard General denied plans to reduce local coverage and cut station jobs, calling it speculation and saying it made “a commitment in the FCC record that it had no intention of taking such actions.”

The Post exclusively reported that Pelosi and other House Democrats received more than $500,000 in campaign donations from Byron Allen, a comedian turned media mogul who sought to block the deal.

Allen has offered to buy Tegna, but didn’t have the financing at least a year ago.

Nancy Pelos
Nancy Pelosi has opposed Standard General’s proposed takeover of Tegna.

There have also been concerns about whether Apollo Global Management, which is lending money to Standard General to fund the deal, will have any hand in Tegna’s management, sources said.

Apollo owns the Cox Media Group and its 33 television stations. Combining Cox and Tegna would violate broadcast ownership rules, sources said.

Standard General has said that Apollo has nothing to say about Tegna.

Kim’s bid received support from several minority groups this week.

The Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, National Action Network, National Urban League and UnidosUS Call released a joint statement calling on the FCC to hold a vote.

The FCC declined to comment.

Senator Menendez declined further comment.

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