Political News

Controversial NASA chief nominee moves to full Senate vote

Posted November 8, 2017 11:17 a.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2017 3:02 a.m. EST

— President Donald Trump's pick to head NASA will move forward in the nomination process after the Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation voted him out of committee Wednesday, 14-13.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma, faced scathing questioning during his initial hearing a week prior to the committee's vote, in what Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, described Wednesday as "robust."

"Now my position is, I have come to believe that the position of NASA administrator as I have said so many times in front of this committee, obviously should not be one that is partisan," Nelson said Wednesday, reiterating his comments from last week's hearing. "It ought to be non-partisan."

Nelson, who is the committee's top Democrat and is a former astronaut himself, compared the position to the defense secretary, arguing that it should remain nonpartisan with the consideration that human lives could be at stake.

"It is a position where a failure of leadership can quite literally mean the difference between life and death," Nelson said, later concluding that he felt Bridenstine's qualifications fall short of what's necessary for a NASA administrator.

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe praised the committee vote to advance Bridenstine's nomination in a statement on Twitter.

"I am pleased @SenateCommerce rightfully advanced the nomination of Jim Bridenstinev--- friend, colleague and fellow pilot---to be NASA Administrator," he wrote.

Opposition to Bridenstine has been from both sides of the aisle, both Nelson and his Florida counterpart Sen. Marco Rubio have been outspoken against the Oklahoma politician.

In September, Rubio told POLITICO he was concerned that bringing politics into the mix "could be devastating for the space program."

"Obviously, being from Florida, I'm very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission," Rubio said to POLITICO.

At the confirmation hearing last week, Nelson pointed to the Oklahoma Republican's criticisms of former President Barack Obama and Rubio, and his 2013 opposition to same-sex marriage.

But Bridenstine assured he would strive to keep NASA nonpartisan.

"I want to make sure that NASA remains, as you said, apolitical, and I will do that to the utmost of my ability should I be confirmed," Bridenstine told Nelson during the hearing.

Nelson said at the time that his record and behavior had been "divisive and extreme as any in Washington."

"Your recent public service career does not instill the confidence about your leadership skills or ability to bring people together," he said. "Unity is so important in NASA instead of division."

Others at the hearing also raised concerns about Bridenstine's past comments on climate change and his lack of science background.

Following the precedent set by other Trump nominees, Bridenstine is not sponsoring legislation, publicly commenting on issues or voting on bills during his confirmation process to "avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest relating to his prospective position within the Administration," his communications director Sheryl Kaufman said in an email.

Bridenstine was elected to Congress in 2012, served in the US Navy and was the executive director for the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium, according to his congressional biography.

This story has been updated and will continue to update with additional developments.