timberland coats House lawmakers hammer Senate for not approving Trump
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R OK) testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee during his confirmation hearing to be administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Nov. 1.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
President Trump nominated Bridenstine in September and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee narrowly voted in November to forward his name to the full Senate for approval.
But his nomination in the GOP controlled Senate has stalled due largely to opposition from two key members: Sen. Marco Rubio, R Fla., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D Fla., the top Democrat on the Commerce panel.
The delay is infuriating some Republican House colleagues of Bridenstine, not only because he’s a political ally but also out of concern that NASA cannot fully handle its complex charge with a fill in at the helm. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr., a career NASA employee, has been acting director since Jan. 20, 2017 a span of 406 days.
“No offense to you but I hope the next time we’re sitting here that Administrator Bridenstine will be in the chair,” Rep. Jim Banks, R Ind., told Lightfoot during a hearing Wednesday on NASA’s proposed 2019 budget before members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “It’s an embarrassment to the process that that hasn’t happened yet.”
“You’ve done an outstanding job,” Rep. Frank Lucas, R Okla., told Lightfoot in a comforting tone. “But ultimately, the resources that the agency needs in the long term, having a director nominated and confirmed by the United States Senate is critically important.”
Lightfoot, the longest acting director in NASA history, didn’t argue.
“It is always a value to have the person the president wants in this position and I think that would be important for us all,” Lightfoot said. “But I can tell you for the past year I’ve had no trouble getting access to the people I’ve needed to have access to.”
No date for a floor vote has been set. A spokeswoman for Bridenstine declined to comment.
The lack of a permanent administrator comes at a pivotal point for NASA.
Trump has placed new emphasis on the agency’s importance by reviving the National Space Council headed by Vice President Mike Pence, announcing a re pivot to the moon, and proposing the privatization of the International Space Station by 2025.
In addition, missions to develop the powerful Space Launch System designed to take astronauts to Mars within 20 years, develop a network of private rockets to ferry passengers to the space lab and launch the James Webb Space Telescope are approaching key milestones.
Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, R Ca., who sits on the committee, blasted senators for their “arrogance” in not approving Bridenstine, a commercial space advocate who has been endorsed by prominent astronauts such as Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
“This is the product of a couple of senators who are bullheaded and couple of senators who are basically watching out for their own little domain rather than what’s good for the overall country,” Rohrbacher said without using names.
Nelson, who has called Bridenstine politically divisive, so far has kept the Senate’s 49 Democrats unified against his confirmation.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D Fl., (L) greets Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R OK) prior to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing Nov. 1 on Bridenstine nomination to be administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
Rubio has expressed deep misgivings about nominating a politician to an agency that prides itself on being non partisan, especially when the nominee cut ads on behalf of Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz suggesting that Rubio, a rival in the 2016 race for president, was soft on terror.
Even if Rubio opposes Bridenstine, the combat war veteran who represents the Tulsa area could win confirmation with Pence casting the tie breaking vote in favor. But complicating matters is the failing health of two GOP senators Thad Cochran of Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona whose attendance now appears crucial to Bridenstine’s successful confirmation. Cochran announced Monday he is retiring effective April 1.
Lightfoot told the panel Wednesday the lack of a permanent successor is not stopping the agency from moving ahead with the controversial plan of ending operation of the space station when the current agreement with international partners expires in 2024.
Trump’s proposed budget includes $150 million as seed money to help NASA assist industry to develop commercial ventures which could eventually operate the space station or at least take over portions of the orbiting lab.