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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 day President Kennedy sent America to the moon Bill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA Has the Biden administration abandoned the idea of a moon base? MORE (Okla.), President TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report 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 FlakeOn The Trail: Arizona is microcosm of battle for the GOP Trump looms large over fractured Arizona GOP Why Republican politicians are sticking with Trump 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 CornynProgressive groups launch .5M ad buy to pressure Sinema on filibuster Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory The Senate is where dreams go to die 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 PompeoWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? 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 RubioOvernight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push Eliminate family and child poverty: Richard Nixon may help in today's debate 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 CruzSenate Republicans: Newly proposed ATF rules could pave way for national gun registry DeSantis tops Trump in 2024 presidential straw poll White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine 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 LeeSenate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC GOP senators press Justice Department to compare protest arrests to Capitol riot 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 SchatzThe Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl Schumer to force vote Tuesday on sweeping election bill 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 PetersThis week: Senate set for voting rights fight Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks Absences force Senate to punt vote on Biden nominee 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 DuckworthTaiwan reports incursion by dozens of Chinese warplanes Concerns grow over China's Taiwan plans China conducts amphibious landing drill near Taiwan after senators' visit 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.