Sen. Murray Strongly Opposes Bridenstine as NASA Administrator

Sen. Murray Strongly Opposes Bridenstine as NASA Administrator

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) sent a three-page letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee today expressing her strong opposition to Rep. Jim Bridenstine becoming the new NASA Administrator.  The committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Bridenstine next week.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). Credit: Murray’s Senate website.

Murray’s opposition is based on Bridenstine’s views on climate change, LGBTQ individuals, violence against woman, and other issues.

In her letter to Senator John Thune (R-SD), the committee’s chairman, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the committee’s ranking member (top Democrat), she says:

“Rep. Bridenstine’s denial of climate science and consistent opposition to equal rights for women, immigrants, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals should disqualify him from consideration.  Given his very public statements and positions, it is clear Rep. Bridenstine would move us backwards not forwards, and I urge you to vote against his nomination.”

Later she writes:

“Since its creation, NASA has played a singular role in American life. The agency has inspired countless young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, and has stirred curiosity in billions of individuals across the world. Rep. Bridenstine’s denial of fundamental scientific facts and long record of bigoted and hateful statements run counter to this legacy.”

The letter cites specific examples of when and where Rep. Bridenstine has made statements or been associated with groups expressing such points of view.  Among them is his 2013 vote against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) “while claiming that VAWA and its key anti-domestic violence programs ‘[misallocate] scarce federal resources.'”

Bridenstine’s nomination has met with mixed reviews since President Trump announced his intention to make him NASA Administrator on September 2.  Senators Nelson and Marco Rubio (R-FL) expressed opposition because he is a politician and NASA should not be politicized. They and others also point to his lack of experience in running a large agency like NASA and the fact that he is not a scientist or engineer, as well as controversial views on climate change.

Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) have come out in support of the nomination.  Cruz chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, which oversees NASA.  Shelby chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.

Bridenstine’s supporters point out that having a science or engineering background has not been a requirement for past NASA Administrators.  James Webb (1961-1968), often cited as the most effective NASA Administrator in the agency’s history, was a lawyer by training.   Sean O’Keefe (2001-2005) had a master’s degree in public administration.   Many of them cite Bridenstine’s strong support for the space program during his tenure in Congress and his background as a military pilot as more than sufficient qualifications.

Excerpt from the Congressional Record, June 11, 2013.

The argument that he rejects the role of humans in climate change is based in part on a statement he made on the House floor in 2013 that “global temperatures stopped rising years ago.”  Murray says in her letter that considering that NASA is requesting $1.8 billion for earth science research for FY2018, “Bridenstine’s failure to accept fundamental scientific truths about Earth’s climate make him an ill-suited and dangerous choice to lead the agency.”

Three years later, Bridenstine did tell AIAA’s Aerospace America that he does not oppose studying climate change, however.

Murray is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) and the full text of her letter is posted on the committee’s website.

She is Washington’s senior Senator and also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Budget Committee, and Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and is the conference secretary for the Senate’s Democratic leadership.  She was first elected to the Senate in 1992, the first woman Senator from the state of Washington. She was reelected in 1998, 2004, 2010, and 2016.

Washington is home to the headquarters or other facilities of a number of space companies, including Blue Origin, Planetary Resources, and SpaceX.  Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) often says that his Seattle-area district is the “Silicon Valley of space.”

Bridenstine’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled for November 1, 2017 at 10:00 am ET and will be webcast.  Murray is not a member of the committee, but Maria Cantwell (D), the junior Senator from Washington, is.

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