Bridenstine Nomination Approved by Committee on Party-Line Vote

Bridenstine Nomination Approved by Committee on Party-Line Vote

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to be NASA Administrator this morning on a party-line vote.  The committee also approved Neil Jacobs to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction on a voice vote.  The nominations next will go to the full Senate for a vote. Dates have not been announced

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida)

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida), the top Democrat on the committee, restated his objections to Bridenstine’s nomination and quoted from fellow Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R) to explain why he believes Bridenstine “falls short”:  the NASA Administrator should be non-political, have a strong science and technology background, and executive leadership abilities to manage a complex technical portfolio.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida)

Nelson and Rubio both expressed their concern about Bridenstine as soon as the nomination was announced.  Today, Nelson quoted from Rubio’s comments at the time, noting that he obtained Rubio’s permission to repeat them at the markup (Rubio is not a member of the committee and thus was not in attendance).

Rubio had said it would be “devastating to the space program” to have a politician  leading NASA at a “critical juncture in its history.”

For his part, Nelson called it an “inflection point” as three new human spaceflight vehicles come on line.

The two commercial crew vehicles, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner, as well as NASA’s Orion spacecraft, will all begin flights during the term of this next NASA Administrator.

The position of NASA Administrator “is one of the most challenging positions in the entire federal government and it is a position where a failure of leadership can quite literally mean the difference between life and death,” Nelson said.

The vote was 14-13, along party lines.

Bridenstine’s was not the only nomination to clear the committee on party-line votes.  Nominees to be a commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and to be an Assistant Secretary of Transportation also were approved 14-13.

The nomination of Neil Jacobs to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, a top post at NOAA, and several others were approved on a voice vote, although some Senators did state that they wanted to be recorded as “no.”

The nominations now must be approved by the full Senate.  Dates for when they will be considered have not been announced.  Candidates need 51 votes for approval.  If the vote is 50-50, Vice President Pence would break the tie.

There are 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and 2 Independents (who often vote with the Democrats) in the Senate.  If all Democrats and Independents vote against Bridenstine, three Republican votes would tip the balance.

Historically, 60 votes were needed to approve presidential nominations, but then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) pushed through a rules change in 2013 lowering the threshold to a simple majority of 51 because Republicans were blocking President Obama’s nominations.  At the time, it did not apply to nominations to the Supreme Court.  That changed this year when current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) changed the rules so that Neil Gorsuch could be confirmed.




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