Despite strong opposition from Democrats, the White House and congressional Republicans are pushing President Trump’s nominee for NASA administrator, who on Thursday again was approved by a Senate committee by a narrow, party-line vote.
Last year, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a conservative Republican from Oklahoma, squeaked through committee, but his nomination was never brought to the Senate floor for a vote. The White House recently renominated him, forcing the second vote by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which approved his nomination, 14-13.
Shortly before the vote, Bridenstine released a statement saying that he would host Bill Nye the chief executive office of the Planetary Society, to the State of the Union address later this month. In the statement, Nye, also known as “the Science Guy,” stopped short of endorsing Bridenstine but said he was pleased to be his guest and that he hoped Trump would “present plans for an ambitious, science-driven space exploration agenda.”
The announcement appeared to be an attempt by Bridenstine to counter accusations by Democrats that he is a climate-change denier, and wouldn't value NASA's science mission — claims he has denied. Sen. Bill Nelson, the influential Democrat from Florida, led the charge against Bridenstine, saying he lacked the credentials to lead the space agency.
“The NASA administrator should be a consummate professional who is technically and scientifically competent and a skilled executive,” he said during the confirmation hearing last year. “More importantly, the administrator must be a leader who has the ability to unite scientists, engineers, commercial space interests, policymakers and the public on a shared vision for future space exploration.”
He added: “Frankly, Congressman Bridenstine, I cannot see how you meet these criteria.”
In an interview, Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter, said he thought there was a “very high” chance that Bridenstine would soon be confirmed and that he thought Bridenstine would be “a very good administrator.”
With Vice President Pence leading a reconstituted National Space Council, he said that Bridenstine was the right guy to be able to help NASA on its mission to go back to the moon in partnership with the private sector.
“You need to have someone who is going to be a pretty aggressive leader, someone who is going to insist on real changes,” he said. He also said that Bridenstine would be an effective “cheerleader, who can get the American people engaged. If they are excited, then Congress will be excited.”