Ness backers keep trying

Despite cancellation of renomination vote, supporters, including Gore, press on

Supporters of FCC Commissioner Susan Ness are mounting a behind-the-scenes effort to overcome opposition from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Last week Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) teamed with Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to push the committee to vote on Ness' third confirmation. Their effort fell apart when the vote, scheduled for last Thursday, was canceled.

"Our goal is to see her renomination go through. If we don't get in on this vehicle, then we'll try for others," said a Democratic source on Capitol Hill. "We would prefer to get a vote before the August recess."

"We're still working on a strategy for bringing Susan's nomination to a vote," said an aide to Snowe.

But in an interview last week, McCain said he had no plans to move Ness' nomination. McCain aide Mark Buse later said his boss continues to believe strongly that Ness's two terms have been enough.

But Ness's supporters say they will continue to try to broker a deal with McCain or press the White House to put more muscle into keeping her in the post.

Several Washington sources questioned whether the White House, which has given Vice President Al Gore wide discretion to shape telecommunications policy, is willing to give up a prime political plum that could be used to reward campaign supporters in his current presidential bid.

Even if Gore prefers to reappoint Ness, there's no indication that he is willing to pay the kind of quid pro quo- prime political appointments-that Republicans would demand in return.

"When push comes to shove, you have to ask if she's really going to be the person," said one former FCC official.

But Gore staffers insist the VP strongly backs Ness.

"The vice president has been involved in every FCC appointment and wants to see her confirmed," said a senior administration aide. "He has supported her in the past and he supports her now."

Companies regulated by the FCC generally have mixed feelings about Ness.

As a liberal Democrat she has backed kids' TV rules and voted to preserve broadcast and cable ownership rules that most companies would rather live without.

But Ness has been willing to fight for rule changes that at least make the regulations more palatable. For instance, she bucked her Democratic colleagues to allow TV stations to pre-empt children's programming so they could air Saturday sports programming. Ness also has gotten high marks for stepping in to broker compromises on the digital television standard, such as lengthening the rollout schedule beyond the tighter deadline pushed by former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt.

Several observers say her fate will have little to do with industry or lawmaker support for her individually, but with whether the Democrats and Republicans are willing to strike a package deal on other nominations.

"I don't think we'll know anything until we come down to the end," said an industry source. "All sorts of things can happen at the end of a session."-Paige Albiniak contributed to this story.