Senate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA

The Senate on Thursday voted along party lines to confirm 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.), President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff: Surveillance warrant docs show that Nunes memo 'misrepresented and distorted these applications' Chicago detention facility under investigation following allegations of abuse of migrant children Ex-Trump aide: Surveillance warrants are 'complete ignorance' and 'insanity' MORE’s choice to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The 50-49 vote came after months of Democratic attempts to stop Bridenstine's confirmation and a day after a procedural vote that nearly failed.

The vote came after a dramatic nearly hourlong vote period on the Senate floor. Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeHistory argues for Democratic Senate gains GOP to White House: End summit mystery The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia MORE (R-Ariz.) cast the final "yes" vote after holding out for about 15 minutes longer than his fellow Senators.

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Flake was seen speaking to Senate leaders and their staff, including Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia Senate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (R-Texas). It wasn’t immediately clear why Flake waited so long.

He similarly withheld his vote Wednesday on a procedural motion to move forward on Bridenstine’s confirmation. Cornyn said at the time that Flake wanted more time to meet with CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump privately frustrated over lack of progress with North Korea: report Russian diplomat calls on Pompeo to free accused Russian agent Pelosi: 'Thug' Putin not welcome in Congress MORE, Trump’s nominee for secretary of State, before the Senate moved forward on that nomination.

All Republicans voted to confirm and all Democrats and independents voted against.

Bridenstine, who has represented Tulsa, Okla., since 2013, is a former Navy pilot, and previously led the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.

He’ll be responsible for a 17,000-person agency whose far-reaching duties include space exploration, overseeing commercial space activities, studying aeronautics and researching the Earth’s atmosphere, among other tasks.

While Republicans hailed Bridenstine as a top-notch candidate to lead NASA, Democrats argued that he was unqualified for the high-profile scientific spot and too divisive of a politician. They also argued that his views, such as doubting climate change science and opposition to LGBT rights, ought to disqualify him.

A key vote for Bridenstine came from Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSunday shows preview: Questions linger over Trump-Putin summit Hillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans On The Money: Trump 'ready' for tariffs on all 0B in Chinese goods | Trump digs in on Fed criticism | Lawmakers drop plans to challenge Trump ZTE deal MORE (R-Fla.).

Rubio, whose state hosts NASA’s primary space launch facility, had bemoaned the nomination of a “politician” to lead the agency instead of a scientist.

Bridenstine notably spoke in advertisements for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz: 'I'm glad' Disney fired James Gunn over 'horrible' tweets Washington needs to end hidden inflation tax on our capital gains GOP tax writer introduces bill to reduce capital gains taxes MORE’s (R-Texas) 2016 presidential campaign, frequently criticizing Rubio as weak on security and immigration.

Rubio said earlier Thursday that though he still had misgivings about Bridenstine, the impending retirement of acting NASA Director Robert Lightfoot meant the organization needs a leader.

“I was not enthused about the nomination,” he said on the Senate floor. “Nothing personal about Mr. Bridenstine. NASA is an organization that needs to be led by a space professional.”

Lightfoot’s departure, Rubio said, “leaves us with the prospect of this incredible agency with a vacancy in its top job.”

Rubio’s GOP colleagues had no reservations about supporting Bridenstine.

“Claiming our rightful place in the stars will require an effort spanning many years and several presidential administrations,” 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. “We can begin that undertaking today by confirming a leader with a remarkable record of service to our country, a vision for the American space program that is big, not small, and a genuine faith in his country that is as boundless as the heavens. That man is Jim Bridenstine.”

Democrats argued that Bridenstine is the wrong man for the job.

“Jim Bridenstine, the nominee that we are considering, served as a Navy pilot, and I thank him for his service. But that does not qualify him to run NASA,” said 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).

“Just because you know how to fly a plane does not mean that you have the skills and experience to lead the federal government's space agency,” he continued.

“James Bridenstine is a climate denier with no scientific background who has made a career out of ignoring science,” Schatz said.

NASA is one of the leading federal agencies responsible for studying climate change, including tracking temperature changes throughout history.

“I am deeply concerned about this nomination because it is further evidence of a much deeper problem. I am concerned this administration does not respect science, especially science in government institutions,” said Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Dem senator: Kavanaugh sides with 'wealthiest special interests' Judge on Trump shortlist boasts stint on Michigan's high court MORE (D-Mich.). “NASA’s science and research needs a champion who understands and promotes the nuances of work being done by their team. In short, NASA needs an administrator who will be driven by science and not politics.”

The vote was also notable for the final vote cast.

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.) briefly returned from her maternity leave, with her baby in her arms, to cast a vote against Bridenstine. Senators applauded her when she came in, and a handful crowded around her to see the child.

Duckworth gave birth to her daughter, Maile, on April 9, becoming the first woman to give birth to a baby while in the Senate.

The Senate passed a resolution Wednesday evening to allow her to bring her baby onto the floor during votes.