WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders, under pressure from President Trump to install an ally who would dictate more favorable news coverage of his administration, are moving to swiftly confirm a conservative filmmaker to lead the independent agency in charge of state-funded media outlets.
Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has scheduled a committee meeting next week to advance the long-stalled nomination of Michael Pack, a close ally of Stephen K. Bannon’s and a favorite of conservative activists, to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
The action came after Mr. Trump pressed Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, during a recent call to speed up Mr. Pack’s nomination, according to three people familiar with the private conversation who discussed it on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Trump’s personal intervention to push through his favored nominee illustrates his determination to install a sympathetic figure at the parent agency of broadcasters, which includes the Voice of America, the largest American international broadcaster and one that has recently provoked his ire.
At a news conference last month, the president said the Senate’s failure to confirm Mr. Pack was “preventing us from managing the Voice of America.”
The week before, the White House had lobbed an unusual broadside against the V.O.A., falsely accusing the United States-funded foreign broadcaster of parroting Chinese propaganda in its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. Trump’s social media director called it a “disgrace.”
The president singled out Mr. Pack’s nomination as part of a tirade about the Senate’s failure to confirm his nominees, in which he fumed about Democratic opposition to his chosen candidates and threatened to use a never-before-used presidential power to adjourn Congress himself so he could unilaterally install them. Mr. McConnell has since opened the Senate up for business — even as Congress’s top doctor said reconvening carried health risks — telling colleagues on their first day back that he would look to “move qualified nominees who have been held up for too long already.”
“The Senate will be acting on key nominations that relate directly to the safety of the American people, oversight of our coronavirus legislation, and more,” Mr. McConnell said.
A spokesman for Mr. McConnell said that the majority leader and Mr. Trump “talk all the time” but that the office does not give details on their conversations. A spokesman for the White House declined to comment on the call regarding Mr. Pack.
Democrats who have long opposed Mr. Pack’s nomination argued that it was inappropriate to convene to consider business unrelated to the novel coronavirus, particularly someone they called “a controversial political nominee.”
“Putting Mr. Pack up for a committee vote under these circumstances would be a shocking departure from committee practice and an abdication of the committee’s role to vet nominees and ensure only those who are fit to serve get our stamp of approval,” the Democrats on the foreign relations panel wrote Thursday in a letter to Mr. Risch.
The U.S. Agency for Global Media, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors, oversees news organizations that together make up one of the largest media networks in the world. V.O.A. is the most prominent, but the agency is also in charge of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and Middle East Broadcasting Networks, among other groups. Many journalists in the organizations are nervous about whether Mr. Pack — following the lead of the White House — will try to curb or assault their editorial independence, according to people with knowledge of the newsrooms.
“There has been great apprehension,” said Brett Bruen, who worked with the agency as the director of global engagement on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “Pack threatens to shred their credibility, both in Washington and worldwide.”
“It will become a taxpayer-funded extension of OANN and Breitbart, spinning out spurious stories,” Mr. Bruen added, using the acronym for One American News Network and naming two news conservative news outlets that churn out glowing coverage of Mr. Trump.
The agency traditionally had a bipartisan board that served as the organization’s collective head and helped maintain the firewall. But a provision in a 2016 defense policy bill elevated the chief executive and put the board in an advisory role. The chief executive can make appointments at the networks with no checks on that power.
“My question is: Does he understand what the mission of Voice of America is, which is truthful journalism?” David B. Ensor, a recent director of V.O.A. who is now at George Washington University, said of Mr. Pack. “There are some people on the right who think a propaganda channel would be more effective. They are wrong. I hope he’s not one of them.”
A Washington-based filmmaker, Mr. Pack has collaborated on movies with Mr. Bannon, a former head of Breitbart News, and produced and directed a documentary, “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.” His nomination has been backed by a cadre of powerful conservative activists and groups, including the Heritage Foundation, former Senator Jim DeMint and Jerome Corsi, the political commentator and conspiracy theorist.
Mr. Bannon is a longtime critic of V.O.A., saying in 2018 that it was “a rotten fish from top to bottom.”
“It’s now totally controlled by the deep-state apparatus,” he said.
Mr. Pack previously served as the director of Worldnet — now the television component of V.O.A. — under President George Bush, and worked at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as a senior executive in its television production division.
“In today’s connected age, molding global public sentiment matters,” Mr. Pack said at his confirmation hearing. “As Lincoln would have counseled, we need to counter lies with the truth. We need to make clear to the world the ideals America strives to live up to.”
Even before the White House began publicly attacking V.O.A., its current top managers, Obama appointees and drawn largely from traditional media backgrounds, expected to lose their jobs if Mr. Pack were confirmed.
Mr. Pack was nominated by Mr. Trump in June 2018 to lead the agency, prompting protests from Democrats and quiet resistance from some Republicans on Capitol Hill, including former Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, then the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who showed little interest in moving the nomination.
In a letter in April to Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, cited a number of concerns he referred to as “problematic revelations” that emerged the night before Mr. Pack’s confirmation hearing.
At issue, Mr. Menendez said, was whether he engaged in “inappropriate or unlawful activity” related to transactions between his film company and a nonprofit organization he runs. Mr. Menendez also cited concerns over whether Mr. Pack acted improperly in awarding his film company with a contract for fund-raising services for the nonprofit.
“To date, his responses have been perfunctory and inadequate,” Mr. Menendez wrote.
But the larger concern is that, if confirmed, Mr. Pack would try to influence coverage at V.O.A. and other networks. With a budget of $750 million and a reach of more than 345 million people globally, the U.S. Agency for Global Media tries to promote American democratic values by melding journalism and political messaging across an array of radio and television channels. Its 3,300 employees are legally protected from political interference.
John Lansing, the previous permanent chief executive, was known for maintaining journalistic independence and keeping a firewall between the news organizations and politicians. Mr. Lansing is now the chief executive of NPR.
After Mr. Trump’s comments at his April news conference, Amanda Bennett, who leads Voice of America, released a lengthy statement defending its reporting.
“One of the big differences between publicly funded independent media, like the Voice of America, and state-controlled media is that we are free to show all sides of an issue and are actually mandated to do so by law,” Ms. Bennett said.
Elizabeth Williamson contributed reporting.