US Senate Democrats say Jessica Rosenworcel should be FCC chair

WASHINGTON, March 27 Wed Mar 27, 2013 12:45pm EDT

WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats are pressing President Barack Obama to elevate Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to become the agency's first female chair, according to a letter obtained by Reuters.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will leave the commission in coming weeks and the letter to Obama, signed by 37 senators, calls Rosenworcel "a superb candidate" who is "equally respected" by the telecommunications industry, public safety community and public interest groups.

"We write to urge you to give serious consideration to nominating Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel ... to be the agency's first chairwoman," starts the letter, which was dated March 22.

The letter was sent to Obama by Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which oversees the FCC.

Others who signed the letter included Max Baucus of Montana, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Carl Levin of Michigan, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Dianne Feinstein of California.

Rosenworcel, 41, was a member of the commerce committee's staff in the past, serving as senior communications counsel, and is now the junior Democratic commissioner at the FCC. She was sworn in at the agency in May 2012.

Mignon Clyburn is the senior Democrat on the five-member panel. She would be the likely interim chair if Obama decided to nominate an outsider to replace Genachowski.

An outside nominee would require Senate confirmation, while elevating a current FCC commissioner would not.

"By choosing a sitting Commissioner that has established bipartisan Senate support, you can quickly install a proven leader at this important agency," the senators' letter Said.

"That fact is particularly critical with the FCC in the middle of several significant rulemakings and other initiatives. By nominating Commissioner Rosenworcel you could avoid possible delays created by other nominees."

Obama has been under pressure to nominate more women to lead U.S. agencies as he reshuffles appointments for his second term as president. In recent weeks he has tapped female leaders for the Federal Trade Commission and the Secret Service, which analysts say may ease the pressure related to the FCC.

In recent weeks, Tom Wheeler - a venture capitalist and an Obama ally and fundraiser - has emerged as the frontrunner for FCC chairmanship. Wheeler is a known figure in Washington's tech circles who in the past has worked for the National Cable Television Association and the wireless industry group CTIA.

An outside successor to Genachowski also could be nominated in a pair with a Republican to replace Commissioner Robert McDowell, who will also step down in coming weeks. A paired Senate confirmation is considered easier to accomplish. (Reporting by Alina Selyukh; editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)