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Senate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA

The Senate on Thursday voted along party lines to confirm Republican Rep. Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineThe Biden administration endorses NASA's Artemis, the Space Force Will Biden continue NASA's Artemis program to return to the moon? NASA demonstrates why rocket science is still hard with the SLS test MORE (Okla.), President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee 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 FlakeGrassley to vote against Tanden nomination Klain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Tanden's path to confirmation looks increasingly untenable 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 CornynSenators should know precisely what they're voting on Mean tweets may take down Biden nominee Senate GOP works to avoid having '22 war with Trump 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 PompeoMike PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Trump to reemerge on political scene at CPAC China labels human rights criticism 'groundless' 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 RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Mehdi Hasan gets MSNBC Sunday prime-time show Haley isolated after Trump fallout 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 CruzJohn Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report Huawei backs supply chain security standards in wake of SolarWinds breach The Memo: Biden faces first major setback as Tanden teeters 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 LeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Haaland on drilling lease moratorium: 'It's not going to be a permanent thing' Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 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 SchatzMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Little known Senate referee to play major role on Biden relief plan Bipartisan group of lawmakers proposes bill to lift rule putting major financial burden on USPS 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 PetersDeJoy set for grilling by House Oversight panel Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack Law enforcement officials lay out evidence Capitol riot was 'coordinated' attack 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 DuckworthSenate Democrats call on GAO to review child care access barriers for disabled parents, kids Biden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Lawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing 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.