NASA vote will show whether Doug Jones is really above party politics

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Doug Jones is the first Democratic Senator from Alabama to be elected in a very long time. He managed this feat because his Republican opponent, Roy Moore, was so utterly tainted and because he promised to chart a moderate course. Jones said that he would represent the interests of the people of Alabama, even if he has to buck the Democratic Party and reach across the aisle to the Republicans.

Very soon, Jones will have an opportunity to match his words with deeds in a matter that will affect the fortunes of Alabama.

Last September, President Trump nominated Rep. Jim Bridenstine, Republican from Oklahoma, to be NASA administrator. Bridenstine is a young reformer, having authored the American Space Renaissance Act that proposes to change the way the federal government does space across the board, not just at NASA.

{mosads}Bridenstine has gotten an impressive amount of support, from scientists such as Paul Spudis, the most preeminent lunar geologist on the planet, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, and even Apollo moonwalker Buzz Aldrin. Bridenstine’s ideas of using commercial partnerships will be crucial for implementing Trump’s mandate to return to the moon.


Unfortunately, Bridenstine has run into a buzz saw of opposition from Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Nelson is insisting that Bridenstine must not be NASA administrator.

The sins that Nelson is accusing Bridenstine of include that he is a climate-change “denier,” that he once opposed same-sex marriage, and that he opposed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, albeit on narrow, constitutional grounds and not because he favors harming women.

Most curious, Nelson believes that Bridenstine’s status as an elected official is a disqualification. He says he prefers someone with a more technical background in the mode of Charles Bolden or Michael Griffin. Nelson’s criteria would have ruled out the aforementioned O’Keefe and the legendary James Webb, both considered highly successful NASA leaders.

Nelson’s objections are clearly bogus, based more on partisanship and a desire not to have a space agency chief who is too independent. However, virtually all of the Senate Democratic caucus is said to be prepared to vote against Bridenstine’s confirmation. With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla), also a possible no vote, the prospect of the gentleman from Oklahoma becoming NASA administrator is on the edge of a knife.

Trump’s push back to the moon will be of great benefit not only to the country, but also to Alabama. Huntsville is the home of NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center, which will help to develop the rockets that will return Americans to the lunar surface.

Huntsville is also increasingly becoming a center for commercial space with the establishment of Blue Origin’s rocket engine factory. However, the longer NASA is without permanent leadership, the more likely it is that the return to the moon will be delayed and possibly derailed as it was twice before.

Jones now has the chance to prove that he represents the people of Alabama and the interests of the United States, even when they run contrary to the Democratic Party. He can announce that he supports the nomination of Bridenstine, bucking his party and thus fulfilling his promise to the people of Alabama.

Jones’ support will likely put Bridenstine over the top and might cause other Democrats to take courage and join with the Republicans in ensuring NASA has effective leadership. Support of Bridenstine will be something Jones can take to the voters when he runs for a full term in 2020.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.  He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.

Tags Bill Nelson Donald Trump Doug Jones Jim Bridenstine Jim Bridenstine Marco Rubio Mark Whittington NASA Roy Moore Roy Moore Space

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