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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 BridenstineFor sale: The Moon Mark Kelly's views on Space Force, NASA's Artemis return to the moon are problematic NASA's Bridenstine: We really are going to the lunar south pole 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 to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Trump's new interest in water resources — why now? MORE (R-Fla.) during his presidential campaign and his criticism of former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump is cruising for a bruising State lawmaker Elizabeth Fiedler discusses the top issues for Pennsylvania voters Joe Biden's transit plan: Party like it's 2009 MORE.

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Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Democrats sound alarm on possible election chaos Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in 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 SchatzSenate Democrats hold talkathon to protest Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Coordinated federal leadership is needed for recovery of US travel and tourism Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing 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 BookerDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Obama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority 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 McCainObama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Mark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego More than 300 military family members endorse Biden 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 FlakeOne of life's great mysteries: Why would any conservative vote for Biden? Trump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Biden holds 8-point lead over Trump in Arizona: poll 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 LeeWhite House to host swearing-in event for Barrett on Monday night Pence adviser Marty Obst tests positive for COVID-19 Two Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 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 CruzGOP clears key hurdle on Barrett's Supreme Court nomination, setting up Monday confirmation Texas and North Carolina: Democrats on the verge? Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus 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.