Dems tear into Trump’s NASA nominee

Dems tear into Trump’s NASA nominee

Senate Democrats repeatedly tore into President Trump’s pick to lead NASA at a Wednesday confirmation hearing.

Democrats on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee repeatedly argued that 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 (R-Okla.) is unqualified to lead the nation’s space agency due to what they said was his climate change skepticism, opinions on homosexuality, scant experience in science and other issues.

The raucous hearing laid bare Bridenstine’s political history, including his accusations against 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.) during his presidential campaign and his criticism of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEx-White House stenographer: Trump is ‘lying to the American people’ Trump has the right foreign policy strategy — he just needs to stop talking The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump faces bipartisan criticism over Putin presser, blames media for coverage MORE.

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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.), a former astronaut and the top Democrat on the panel, said that while nominees are often highly political, NASA is not the place for politics.

“Your record and your behavior in Congress has been divisive, and it’s been as extreme as any that we have seen in Washington. And this senator is wondering, how does that fit with a leader of a technical agency where unity is often right on the line as to what is going to happen in success or failure of a mission or a program?” Nelson asked.

“NASA represents the best of what we can do as a people. And NASA is one of the last refuges of partisan politics. And when it has got partisan in the past, we’ve gotten in trouble,” Nelson continued, referencing conclusions that political fighting contributed to the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Some Democrats, like Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzOn The Money: Trump rips Fed over rate hikes | Dems fume as consumer agency pick refuses to discuss border policy | Senate panel clears Trump IRS nominee Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Senate to vote on resolution telling Trump not to hand over former diplomats MORE (D-Hawaii), focused their grilling of Bridenstine on climate change.

NASA is one of the lead federal agencies in observation and science of the atmosphere and the climate, and its official position is that human activity, via greenhouse gases, is the main cause of climate change.

Bridenstine told Schatz that “carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas” and “humans have contributed to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

But Schatz said that doesn’t go nearly far enough.

“The scientific consensus is not that it’s really difficult to tell how much of climate change is attributable to human activity,” he said. “The scientific consensus is that climate change is primarily caused by human activity.”

“It’s gonna depend on a whole lot of factors, and we’re still learning more about it every day,” Bridenstine said, adding that “sun cycles and other factors” may have a big influence on the climate.

To other Democrats, Bridenstine’s statements on homosexuality were the most worrying.

“I’m wondering, if you’re a child and you see quotes like ‘Some of us in American still believe in the concept of sexual morality,’ tell me how you think a child will view a leader who thinks that they are immoral, or engaging in immoral acts,” said Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerAnti-Trump protesters hold candlelight vigil by White House House backs resolution expressing support for ICE Dems to propose legislation to prevent ICE from shackling pregnant women MORE (D-N.J.), quoting a past statement from Bridenstine regarding the Boy Scouts' decision to allow homosexual leaders.

Nelson sought, in part, to paint Bridenstine as an enemy of many Republican senators, like Rubio and 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.), and potentially a source of division in the GOP.

Bridenstine supported Kelli Ward, who previously challenged McCain in a primary and planned to challenge 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.) before Flake announced his intent to retire.

“I wonder, does NASA need someone that has been so involved in politics in these kind of causes? You can say that politics is politics, which you have stated earlier. But these are some of the most divisive tactics that this senator has ever seen in either party,” Nelson said of Bridenstine.

Rubio previously told Politico that putting a politician atop NASA could be “devastating for the space program,” without directly saying if he would vote against Bridenstine.

Florida, which Rubio and Nelson represent, hosts the Kennedy Space Center, NASA’s main launch facility.

Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate and need 51 votes to confirm nominees, so any defection would be significant.

The panel’s Republicans saw the Democrats’ criticisms as pure politics and based only on Bridenstine’s status as a politician.

“I consider wildly inappropriate the suggestion that this somehow disqualifies you. And with all due respect to my colleague, I cannot for the life of me understand why that would be something that would disqualify you,” Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWisconsin GOP Senate candidate rips his own parents for donations to Dems GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Utah) said, addressing Nelson.

“I am proud and deeply gratified that President Trump has nominated Rep. Bridenstine to lead NASA,” said 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), who counts himself as a close friend of Bridenstine’s and chairs the space subcommittee.

“And I will say, this committee’s sorry performance during the confirmation hearing may not be surprising in the current environment, but is disappointing nonetheless," he continued.

Bridenstine committed to the panel that he would leave his politics and personal opinions out of his NASA leadership.

“The advocacy that I’ve had for the constituents of Oklahoma is the same advocacy I would like to bring to NASA,” he said.

“I would say that when it comes to space issues, and when it comes to issues that are important to the national security of this country, I have worked across the aisle with great Americans to bring about, I think, legislation that will ultimately serve every American,” Bridenstine continued.

“It is also true that as a member of the House of Representatives representing Oklahoma, I have advocated for issues that are not relevant to NASA. And that’s a part of my background," he added.