House members demand Senate confirm Jim Bridenstine as NASA chief

House members demand Senate confirm Jim Bridenstine as NASA chief
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A group of more than 60 House members sent a letter to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? Dems charge ahead on immigration Biden and Bernie set for clash MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerMJ Hegar announces Texas Senate bid Hillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage MORE (D-N.Y.), demanding that Rep. Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineThis is not the time to abandon NASA's Space Launch System Can America return to the moon by 2024? Why NASA announced and then canceled an all-woman spacewalk MORE (R-Okla.) be confirmed as NASA administrator. The interesting fact about the letter is that more than a dozen Democrats signed it, knocking down one of the main arguments for blocking Bridenstine’s nomination.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTrump administration renews interest in Florida offshore drilling: report Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center Ex-House Intel chair: Intel panel is wrong forum to investigate Trump's finances MORE (D-Fla.) said Bridenstine has been “divisive” and “partisan” as a representative from Oklahoma. The fact that Bridenstine’s fellow representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, have endorsed his nomination to head NASA would tend to contradict that excuse for blocking his nomination.

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The House members note in their letter that with the acting NASA administrator, Robert Lightfoot, retiring at the end of April, the space agency is faced with a leadership crisis. They tout their fellow congressman’s qualifications in glowing terms.

 

“Jim Bridenstine has spent the bulk of his adult life in service to his country. His background is in naval aviation, flying the E2- C Hawkeye in Afghanistan and Iraq, and later the F-18 while also serving as an instructor at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center,” the letter notes. “He has been responsible for coordinating command and control of the battlefield from an airborne platform, with thousands of lives and billions of dollars affected by his decisions. In this service to his nation he has demonstrated both the technical capacity and leadership experience necessary to lead NASA.  

Bridenstine is also a graduate of Rice University and holds an MBA from Cornell, a useful thing to have in the new era of space commercial partnerships.

“As the Congressman from the 1st District of Oklahoma, Jim has been an active member of the House Space Subcommittee, distinguishing himself as one of the most engaged, passionate, and knowledgeable members of the Subcommittee,” the letter continues. “In 2015, Space News named him one of ‘five space leaders in the world making a difference in space.’ He authored several provisions in the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act and co-authored the bipartisan American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act.” 

His nomination has been endorsed by scientists, commercial space players, and even Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Bridenstine’s qualifications for NASA administrator have been noted in a previous article in the Hill, with some of the interesting ideas he has expressed for leveraging lunar resources to boost the world economy.

Ever since he was nominated last September, Bridenstine has been caught in an impasse with all 49 Senate Democrats opposed, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDems plot aggressive post-Mueller moves, beginning with McGahn Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Cuban negotiator says Trump's efforts to destabilize Cuba's government will fail MORE (R-Fla.) echoing some of the reservations that Nelson has, and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhy did Mueller allow his investigation to continue for two years? If you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era MORE (R-Ariz.) unavailable as a result of his illness. The vote now stands 50 opposed and 49 in favor, presuming that Rubio is a no vote.

The Senate Democratic leadership is whipping a no vote on Bridenstine fairly effectively, which explains the solid wall of 49 no votes from the minority. However, a change of only one vote would lead to a narrow confirmation of the gentleman from Oklahoma. 

The letter is said to be as directed to Rubio as it is the Senate leadership. If Rubio were to declare his support for Bridenstine, he would break the logjam and resolve the leadership crisis that NASA is now confronted with. The switch of a moderate Democrat such as Doug Jones of Alabama or Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinCain says he withdrew from Fed consideration because of 'pay cut' On The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed MORE of West Virginia would also end the game of chicken that has been played between Nelson and the Senate Democrats and supporters of Bridenstine for the past six months. 

NASA is now embarked on a new mission, to return human astronauts to the moon, using commercial partnerships to create a new, cis-lunar economy along the way. Bridenstine’s fellow House members from both sides of the aisle are telling their opposite numbers in the Senate that their colleague is the best person to lead that effort and that it is high time for the obstruction to end.

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.