I was recently in an argument with someone who claimed that Obama put Aji Pal as the chairman, which isn't true, but he did put him as one of five commissioners. And I thought, why would Obama do this?

Looking up the rules for commissioners, at least part of the story was uncovered by requirements for two commissioners out of the 5 to be not from the president's party. But that doesn't explain why they needed to be republican exactly, or why they Aji Pal needed to be one of those commissioners.

According to a few news sites, the claim is that Mitch McConnell recommended Aji Pal to the president. But that alone doesn't seem to be a problem since democrats had a majority, though I don't know if it was enough (60) at the time he was nominated.

A few news sites went further:

and claimed it was actually tradition that the minority leader of the senate provide two nominees for the majority to accept for commissioner.

Rather, there’s a tradition of letting the minority party pick two commissioners, since the majority can only legally hold three seats; in nominating Pai — at the recommendation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican — Obama was sticking to that tradition.

Starks was nominated to the FCC by President Trump on the advice of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). By tradition, the president appoints opposite-party commissioners based on recommendations from the opposing party.

The problem is I'm having a hard time finding any other news site that claims this, though it certainly is believable. I can't even google for this kind of thing, I'm getting nothing terribly relevant to nominations for the FCC.

Is there actually a long standing tradition of accepting nominee suggestions from the opposite parties leadership?

  • 2
    Why does this surprise you? Your title says dictate and your text says provide. The president can still stay no, suggest someone else. Also note that it is possible for the president and the Senate majority to be of different parties. In that case the Senate majority would recommend the 2 “alternate party” candidates.
    – Damila
    Jul 22, 2020 at 19:55
  • @Damila Really it surprised me? That's news to me. Also my sources say accepting those two candidates at the other two is tradition. I'm trying to figure out if that is indeed the case, or if typically presidents didn't just pick what the alternative party leader chose.
    – Krupip
    Jul 22, 2020 at 20:28
  • Per the FCC's official site: "He had previously served as Commissioner at the FCC, appointed by then-President Barack Obama and confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate in May 2012." So not only was Ajit Pai nominated by President Obama in 2012, every Democratic Senator voted for him. That doesn't address the tradition that your question asks about, hence this is just a comment.
    – Just Me
    Jul 22, 2020 at 20:41
  • 2
    Sorry, the wording of your title made it sound like you were incredulous. It was the "really" I think. Anyway, tradition does not mean required. For more examples of the phenomenon, GW Bush(R) nominated a Democrat (Michael Copps) who was pushed by then Senate committee chair Fitz Hollings (D). Whether or not that officially went through Tom Daschle (D), well nothing happens in a vacuum.
    – Damila
    Jul 22, 2020 at 20:47
  • Actually, based on some quick research it seems that sometimes it is the Commerce Committee chair who pushes a nominee when the Senate and president are different parties. Then Senator/ Committee Chairman John McCain (R) pushed for a Republican that then President Clinton (D) nominated.
    – Damila
    Jul 22, 2020 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


Is there actually a long standing tradition of accepting nominee suggestions from the opposite parties leadership?

While I have been unable to determine when the tradition started, it appears to be the case.

For the FCC, another source is:

White House Sends FCC Nominations To Senate, Nov 1, 2011

The White House has officially sent its nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai for two Federal Communications Commision commissioner seats to the Senate, which must now schedule a confirmation hearing.

Rosenworcel is currently senior counsel for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, and a top communications policy advisor to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), whose committee will vet the commissioners. A source with the Commerce Committee said the chairman would be looking to schedule a confirmation hearing as soon as possible.

Pai, since last spring, has been a Partner at Jenner & Block LLP. Before that he was in the Office of the General Counsel at the FCC, where he was deputy general counsel, associate general counsel, and special advisor to the general counsel.

Rosenworcel is Rockefeller's choice, while Pai is said to be the pick of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The President generally defers to the choices of congressional leaders for both Republican and Democratic picks. [Emboldening added.]

Greater support for a "tradition of accepting nominee suggestions from the opposite parties leadership" is found in an article from the National Review.

Mitch McConnell had a problem. He needed to give President Obama, the man he had publicly vowed to make a one-term president, a nominee for the Legal Services Corporation. By law, the LSC, a Nixon-era 501(c)(3) tasked with providing legal aid to low-income Americans, had to be bipartisan; no more than six of its eleven members could belong to one party. By tradition, it fell on McConnell, as the senior member of the opposition in the Senate, to provide the president with a list of Republican names. [Emboldening added.]

This seems to take the tradition back to the Nixon Era (1974).

The article mentions a number of appointments that were made with the help of Dan Schneider, who "migrated into McConnell’s office, where he oversees a sort of national conservative talent search with the title 'Policy Advisor and Counsel for Nominations.'"

Schneider operates according to a set of five criteria for screening potential nominees first developed by E. Pendleton “Pen” James, Ronald Reagan’s director of personnel management. First, were the nominees competent in the subject matter? Second, were they philosophically compatible with Senator McConnell? Third, did they possess high character and integrity? Fourth, were they tough? Fifth, were they team players?

The result, two or three hundred appointees later, is measurable.

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