Republican FCC Commissioner Calls on Joe Biden's FCC Chair To Reject Pressure on Miami Radio Station Sale

A Republican commissioner on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is calling for the FCC chair to reject pressure from Democrats over the sale of a well-known Miami radio station to a group that fired its top-rated liberal host, Newsweek has learned.

In an interview, Brendan Carr, the Republican commissioner, said acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel should denounce the pressure the FCC was receiving from Democratic lawmakers because she spoke out against Donald Trump's tweets pressuring the agency in 2017.

"The letter that Democrats in Congress sent to the FCC this week is an escalation in their campaign to pressure Democratic commissioners at the FCC to make licensing decisions based on political viewpoints of broadcasters," he said, adding that it "plainly transgresses" a line drawn by the First Amendment and "undermines the independence of the FCC and integrity of our process."

The controversial sale broke out into the open after a Newsweek story revealed that Democrats were sounding the alarm on the sale of Radio Caracol in what they perceived as a partisan takeover in a state that has become increasingly unfriendly for the party. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told Newsweek they would pressure the FCC chair to further scrutinize the sale, which they did in a letter sent Wednesday.

In the letter, Representatives Darren Soto, Joaquin Castro, and Ruben Gallego wrote to Rosenworcel about the acquisition of Radio Caracol 1260 AM by America CV, saying it raised questions as to whether the company was "operating in the public interest" and "accurately reflects the Spanish-language listeners in its community of license."

The letter tied the sale to rising worry over the rise of disinformation aimed at Latinos since the 2020 election, which became a concern of former congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Castro, who urged the FBI to investigate the disinformation campaigns.

But Carr said while Democrats are free to believe what they want, taking their case to the government to use the official process of the FCC's licensing mechanism to take action or withhold a license "is the type of conduct you see 100 miles south of Florida, in Cuba."

"It's incumbent on FCC commissioners having this pressure applied to speak out publicly to say we're not going to review this license transaction through the political lens Democrats in Congress are urging us to," he added.

Rosenworcel, who was first appointed to be a commissioner by Barack Obama in 2012, was renominated by Trump five years later, and appointed as acting chair by Biden a day after his inauguration. She is only the second woman to lead the agency, and was vocal in 2017 when Trump tweeted that "with all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license?" Later he added that licenses "must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked."

The Republican FCC chair at the time, Ajit Pai, said he did not have the authority to do that, and that he believed in the First Amendment. But Rosenworcel went further, telling CNN's "Reliable Sources" that "history won't be kind to silence."

"I think it's important for all the commissioners to make clear that they support the First Amendment, and that the agency will not revoke a broadcast license simply because the president is dissatisfied with the licensee's coverage," she told Brian Stelter at the time.

Carr, who did not want to divulge internal discussions between himself and the other commissioners, including Rosenworcel, said that his colleagues know where he stands on the issue. But he called on the acting FCC chair to speak up to maintain trust within the building.

"When you have a pressure campaign coming in aimed at the chair of the agency based on politics, the chair of the agency needs to speak up to make clear to staff in the building that this is going to proceed in normal course," he said.

Democratic lawmakers want the letter to Rosenworcel to speak for itself, and at least one senior Democrat planned their own letter, but has tabled the idea for now, Newsweek has learned.

But a Democratic aide familiar with concerns within their party told Newsweek the FCC "has the responsibility to safeguard our democracy," adding that the sale of a trusted radio station to a group that has been likened to right-leaning networks One America News and Newsmax is exactly in line with the disinformation campaigns waged in 2020 that are still raging.

"The attacks on the Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6 demonstrated the real danger of disinformation, and the insurrection showed how people can be radicalized by lies," the source said. "So of course members of Congress are concerned by the proliferation of disinformation, particularly on Spanish-language networks aimed at Latino listeners."

jessica rosenworcel brendan carr
Jessica Rosenworcel, now acting FCC chair, and Brendan Carr, now an FCC commissioner, testify before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee during their confirmation hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images