By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two key U.S. House Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday asked Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai if the White House was involved in his decision to move forward with new regulations limiting key social media legal protections.
Representatives Frank Pallone and Mike Doyle demanded Pai disclose if he had any contact with the White House or President Donald Trump's re-election campaign before his announcement.
Pai did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday but told reporters Tuesday he did not feel any pressure from the White House. He did not directly address a question from Reuters about whether he or his staff had any contact with the White House ahead of his announcement.
Pallone, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Doyle, who heads a panel overseeing the FCC, said "the American people deserve to know what conversations, if any, have transpired between you, your office and the White House to ensure the integrity of the FCC."
The lawmakers noted it "wasn’t until online platforms began fact-checking the President’s content that he and his administration began an aggressive campaign to persuade the FCC to dictate how online platforms moderate content."
Pai said on Oct. 15 he would move forward to set new rules after Trump had ordered the U.S. Commerce Department to file a petition with the FCC seeking to curb legal protections for social media companies over a provision known as "Section 230."
A U.S. Senate hearing on Wednesday focused on Section 230 and how to hold tech companies accountable for the way they moderate content. It turned quickly into a political scuffle, as lawmakers went after the companies but also attacked each other.
Pai on Tuesday declined to say when he might move forward and what new rules might look like.
Section 230, a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, shields social media companies from liability for content posted by their users and allows them to remove lawful but objectionable posts.
Many legal experts and internet companies argue the FCC has no authority to issue regulations under Section 230, while the FCC's general counsel said Pai does have authority.
The lawmakers noted Trump abruptly pulled his nomination of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for a new term after O'Rielly questioned whether the FCC had authority to issue new regulations covering social media companies.
Trump nominated a senior Commerce official, Nathan Simington, who worked on the social media petition, to fill O'Rielly's seat on the FCC and urged the Senate to quickly confirm him.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Tom Brown)