Bridenstine, Myers Nominations Again Clear Committee on Party-Line Votes

Bridenstine, Myers Nominations Again Clear Committee on Party-Line Votes

The Senate Commerce Committee voted again today on the nominations of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to be NASA Administrator and AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers to be NOAA Administrator.  Like last year, they were approved on party-line votes, 14-13.  The next step is for the full Senate to consider the nominations.  That did not happen last year because both are controversial, which is why President Trump had to renominate them, necessitating today’s committee action.

The committee considered seven nominations today, all resubmitted because the Senate did not act on them last year.  Under Senate rules, any nomination not approved or rejected during one session of Congress must be resubmitted by the President unless the Senate agrees to waive the rule by unanimous consent.  That did not happen in the case of these nominees, which included positions not only at NASA and NOAA, but Amtrak, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

All seven were approved. The nomination of Ann Buerkle to chair the CPSC passed by voice vote.  All the others were 14-13 party-line votes.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida)

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida), the top Democrat on the committee, reiterated his opposition to the Bridenstine and Myers nominations.  He initially expressed them last year during their respective nomination hearings on November 1 and November 29 and the original committee votes on November 8 and December 13.

Today, Nelson said nothing had changed.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma)

Bridenstine “has no experience managing a large organization or program, no background in science or engineering, and a history of political divisiveness.” He referenced Republican Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) as also opposing Bridenstine’s nomination.  (Rubio is not a member of the committee so could not participate in this vote.)  NASA is “facing one of the most challenging periods in its history,” Nelson continued, and “with the lives of astronauts and the very future of the space program on the line, now more than ever, the agency needs a unifying and qualified space professional at the helm.”  Praising the work of Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Nelson ended by saying that “it appears” Bridenstine does not have the votes to be approved by the Senate and he hopes that “sooner rather than later, we can move on to a qualified candidate who could be quickly confirmed” on a bipartisan basis as has been true with previous NASA Administrators.

Four Republican Senators spoke in support of Bridenstine:  Mike Lee (Utah), Jim Inhofe (Oklahoma), Ted Cruz (Texas), and Cory Gardner (Colorado).  All pointed to Bridenstine’s background and service as a military pilot as evidence of his qualifications. Inhofe also cited Bridenstine’s ability to “speak the language of Congress” as a benefit. Cruz said Bridenstine, a former Top Gun instructor, has many characteristics similar to an astronaut and urged that if Democrats want to pick a partisan fight that it not be on space, which traditionally is a bipartisan issue.  The lack of a Senate-confirmed NASA administrator for almost a year is “bad for the United States of America, bad for space, it is bad for NASA” and bad for states like Texas, Florida, and Alabama.  He accused Democrats of a partisan “wall of opposition” to a “well qualified veteran, and indeed a war hero” that is not in the best interest of ensuring American leadership in space.  Gardner said that industry and military space leaders in Colorado support Bridenstine along with Colorado Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter.

AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers.

Nelson also restated his criticism of Barry Myers to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of NOAA.  Myers is CEO of AccuWeather, a company owned by his brother.  Nelson believes it is a conflict of interest for Myers to head NOAA, of which the National Weather Service (NWS) is part.  When Myers’ nomination was first voted on last month, Nelson asserted that in 2005 Myers had attempted to get legislation passed to prevent the NWS from offering a product or service that could be provided by the private sector, which would have directly benefited AccuWeather, but put American’s access “to free and potentially life-saving government weather forecasts at risk.”  Nelson added today that he had asked Myers to recuse himself from “all NOAA matters that he knows will directly impact the fortunes of AccuWeather,” but Myers declined.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) spoke in favor of Myers, asserting that there is no conflict of interest and Myers is abiding by “every single rule, regulation” and Office of Government Ethics requirement.

The next step for all the nominees is a vote by the full Senate.  If all Democrats in the Senate oppose the nominations like their counterparts on the committee, the votes will be quite close.

Nominees need 51 votes to be confirmed under current Senate rules.  Republicans hold a slim majority (51-49 if the two independents are counted as Democratic votes), so could approve nominees if every Republican voted yes.  Rubio has publicly stated that he does not think Bridenstine is the right person for the job, however, so that is one Republican against.  If he were the only one, that would create a 50-50 tie that could be broken by Vice President Mike Pence (who supports Bridenstine) in his role as President of the Senate.  Rumors are that one or two other Republicans are not in favor of Bridenstine, however.  Whether their reluctance is sufficient for them to cast no votes remains to be seen.  It is also conceivable, though probably unlikely, that a Democrat could break with the party and vote yes.

Senators weigh many factors in deciding how to vote.  Senate leadership is not likely to bring a nomination to the floor for a vote unless they are confident it will be approved.

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