Trump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama

Trump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama

The Senate narrowly advanced President TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE’s controversial pick to lead NASA on Wednesday after Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Flake: Trump's Russia summit ‘truly an Orwellian moment’ MORE (R-Ariz.) switched his vote to break a tie.

Senators voted 50-48 on Republican Rep. Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineTrump pick for top NASA role has no past experience in space operations Appeals court nominees languish in Senate as Flake demands tariff vote NASA needs Janet Kavandi if we’re going to make it back to the moon — then Mars MORE (Okla.) to lead NASA, giving him the simple majority needed to move forward.

Bridenstine’s nomination appeared to have stalled after Flake initially voted against him, resulting in a 49-49 tie. Vice President Pence, who could normally have put Bridenstine over the top, is in Florida, leaving Republicans unable to break the stalemate.

Flake’s temporary opposition appeared to take lawmakers by surprise. After he voted “no,” Flake was immediately cornered by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Texas), the GOP vote counter, and Republican floor staff.

The Senate was stuck in a tie for roughly 30 minutes before Flake came back to the floor and switched his vote from a “no” to a “yes,” allowing the nomination to advance.

The vote on the nomination lasted more than an hour.

Flake told reporters later that he needed to have "some discussions, some extra time" on issues, but declined to provide specifics.

"I just needed some more time so we'll see where it goes from here. ... It was a close vote so, I just wanted some time to think about it," he told reporters.

Cornyn said Flake was "looking for some assurances" that he would be able to talk again to CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Graham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria White House: Trump 'disagrees' with Putin's request to question Americans MORE, nominated to lead the State Department.

"I'm confident he'll have that chance this afternoon," he told reporters, adding there were "issues" about travel restrictions to Cuba.

Flake said on Tuesday that he was undecided on Pompeo's nomination and wanted more information. 

 

Bridenstine now faces up to an additional 30 hours of floor debate, potentially kicking a final vote into Thursday.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin Ex-Montenegro leader fires back at Trump: ‘Strangest president' in history MORE (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, and Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthLawmakers press Trump admin for list of migrant kids separated from families The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Protests and anger: Washington in turmoil as elections near Ocasio-Cortez responds to Dem senator who said policies 'too far to the left' don't win in Midwest MORE (D-Ill.), who recently gave birth, missed Wednesday's cloture vote.

Bridenstine was widely expected to overcome Wednesday’s procedural hurdle after key GOP votes indicated they would support him at least on the first hurdle.

“I’ve met with him and I’ve been lobbied both for and against him. People are raising some concerns that I’m looking further into,” GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts MORE (Maine) told The Hill.

Collins previously has made waves by rejecting some of Trump’s nominees — including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittZinke left some details off public calendar: report EPA watchdog faults ‘management weaknesses’ in Flint water crisis House completes first half of 2019 spending bills MORE and Education Secretary Besty Devos. She said she was still undecided on how she will vote on final confirmation for Bridenstine.

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit GOP senator: We should accept Trump's 'apology' for Russian election interference comments Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws MORE (R-Fla.) has previously said he doesn’t think a “politician” should head NASA. But he nonetheless voted to invoke cloture on his nomination.

"The unexpected April 30 retirement of the Acting Administrator would leave NASA ... with a gaping leadership void unless we confirm a new Administrator. Because of this I decided to support the nomination of Rep. Bridenstine," Rubio said in a statement. 
 
He added that "I expect him to lead NASA in a non-political way and to treat Florida fairly.”

Republicans argue that Bridenstine is up to the task.

He has served in the House since 2013, and was previously a Navy pilot, having flown missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also previously the head of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium. Democrats, however, say he blatantly mismanaged that organization, leaving it with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.

“I am proud and deeply gratified that President Trump has nominated Rep. Bridenstine to lead NASA,” Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Russia raises problems for GOP candidates Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate MORE (R-Texas) said at Bridenstine’s confirmation hearing last year.

Democrats have also criticized Bridenstine for being skeptical of climate change science and argue that he doesn’t have the scientific background necessary to lead such an important agency.

Furthermore, they’ve charged that Bridenstine has been politically divisive, including through his involvement as an outspoken surrogate for Cruz's presidential campaign in 2016.

“NASA is one of the few remaining areas that has largely avoided the bitter partisanship that has invaded far too many areas of government and our society today, until now,” Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonElection security bill picks up new support in Senate Senators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds MORE (Fla.), the top Democrat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said on the Senate floor earlier Wednesday.

Nelson flew into space in 1986 as part of a NASA program to put politicians on spaceflights. He is running for reelection this year.
 
Miranda Green contributed to this report.
 
Updated: 3:54 p.m.