Trump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama

Trump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama

The Senate narrowly advanced President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE’s controversial pick to lead NASA on Wednesday after Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote as part of deal on Biden nominees Democrats threaten to play hardball over Cruz's blockade Rubio vows to slow-walk Biden's China, Spain ambassador nominees MORE (R-Ariz.) switched his vote to break a tie.

Senators voted 50-48 on Republican Rep. Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineBill Nye promotes infrastructure, social spending bills with Biden NASA can facilitate the commercial space station race SpaceX all-civilian crew returns to Earth, successfully completing 3-day mission 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.

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Flake’s temporary opposition appeared to take lawmakers by surprise. After he voted “no,” Flake was immediately cornered by Sen. John CornynJohn CornynAll hostages free, safe after hours-long standoff at Texas synagogue: governor McConnell will run for another term as leader despite Trump's attacks Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  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 PompeoMike PompeoRussia suggests military deployments to Cuba, Venezuela an option The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Winter is here for Democrats Overnight Defense & National Security — Nuclear states say no winners in global war 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 McCainRedistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities MORE (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, and Sen. Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthWe must learn from the Afghanistan experience — starting with the withdrawal As democracy withers, Bob Dole and other American soldiers must be remembered Overnight Defense & National Security — Austin mandates vaccine for Guardsmen MORE (D-Ill.), who recently gave birth, missed Wednesday's cloture vote.

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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 CollinsI'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities 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 PruittTrump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook Understanding the barriers between scientists, the public and the truth Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official 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 RubioI'm furious about Democrats taking the blame — it's time to fight back The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement Florida looms large in Republican 2024 primary 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 CruzSupreme Court appears divided over Cruz campaign finance challenge Democrats, poised for filibuster defeat, pick at old wounds  O'Rourke says he raised record .2M since launching campaign for Texas governor 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 NelsonOvernight Energy & Environment — Earth records its hottest years ever Global temperatures in past seven years hottest ever observed, new data show NASA welcomes chief scientist, senior climate adviser in new dual role 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.