Bridenstine Nomination to Head NASA Faces Opposition From Nelson, Rubio

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

President Donald Trump’s long expected nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to become the next administrator of NASA ran into immediate trouble on Capitol Hill after it was announced on Friday.

Florida’s two Senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, both expressed serious concerns about appointing the three-term Congressman and former U.S. Navy pilot to lead the nation’s space agency.

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson said in a brief written statement to POLITICO.

Nelson serves as the ranking member on the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, which oversees NASA and would hear Bridenstine’s nomination. Bridenstine’s office did not return calls seeking comment….

Rubio said he and Nelson “share the same concerns” and worry Bridenstine’s “political baggage” would weigh him down in a GOP-led Senate that has grown increasingly resistant to Trump. NASA can’t afford that, Rubio said.

“I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission,” Rubio told POLITICO.

“It’s the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it’s at a critical juncture in its history,” Rubio said. “I would hate to see an administrator held up — on [grounds of] partisanship, political arguments, past votes, or statements made in the past — because the agency can’t afford it and it can’t afford the controversy.”

Media reports say Trump announced his intention to nominate Bridenstine in a statement on Friday with a formal announcement expected on Tuesday. However, the statement does not currently appear on the White House website.

The Senate will need to confirm the nomination of Bridenstine and whomever Trump nominates for the post of NASA deputy administrator.

Oklahoma’s two Republican Senators praised the nomination. Sen. Jim Inhofe issued the following statement:

I am pleased President Trump has announced his intent to name Jim Bridenstine as NASA Administrator today. As the former administrator of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium, Jim Bridenstine’s lifelong passion for space, combine with his work in Congress on modernizing our nation’s space program will serve him well at NASA. I look forward to working with my fellow Oklahoman in this capacity.

Sen. James Lankford also issued a statement of support.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine has served his nation as a Navy Pilot and as a US Representative specializing in satellite innovation. His background in aviation and space, coupled with his commitment to fiscal responsibility make him an excellent choice for NASA Administrator.

During his time in Congress, Bridenstine has made himself an expert on space issues, sponsoring or co-sponsoring a number of bills focused on NASA and improving commercial space. He is a supporter of returning astronauts to the moon first before sending them off the Mars.

Bridenstine is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He serves on the space and energy subcommittees.

Bridenstine has actively campaigned for the space agency’s top job. He has told voters he would limit himself to three two-year terms in the House, meaning he will not be running for reelection next year.

Media reports indicate that Trump intended to name John Schumacher, who serves as vice president of Washington Operations for Aerojet Rocketdyne, as deputy NASA Administrator. However, no nomination for that post was made on Friday.

NASA Watch is reporting Schumacher has withdrawn his name from consideration due to “unexpected family health issues.”

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  • Bridenstine is fine. The others will get over it with a few promises to keep SLS. Nelson wanted Bolden… his record isn’t exactly perfect when it comes to picking NASA chiefs…

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Bolden turned out to be a decent administrator. The NASA administrator’s job is entirely political.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Bolden was a fine administrator, but his public face was a disaster.

  • windbourne

    huh?
    In what way? I thought that he did a great job, esp with the GOP constantly trying to attack SX and then Bolden for backing SX.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Like I said, in many ways he was a fine administrator. However when he would be recorded ‘on the record’ he would say … well some of the darndest things. I’m sure you remember when he went onto Al Jazera and said it was a primary mission of NASA to reach out to the youth of the muslum world, then when the anchor asked him to elaborate, he doubled down in a very Trumpian way. He just needed to be kept away from the press.

  • Gerald R Everett

    While Bridenstine is not my cup of tea politically, I think he is the best on offer for administrator given his obvious enthusiasm and comprehensive understanding of both civil and national security space, and his support of commercial space. I live on Merritt Island Florida and have emailed both Senators Nelson and Rubio respectfully asking for their support of Cong. Bridensteine for NASA administrator.

  • IamGrimalkin

    Well if you want to pick someone who can avoid saying anything controversial, you pick a politician (Trump himself being the exception to the rule of course). That being the case, perhaps having a “space professional, not a politician” might give certain disadvantages.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    There’s a tonne of truth to that, won’t argue with it. And hey, Bolden pulled off the pilot and astronaut path, I never could or will. I’m fully aware, I’m in the peanut gallery here.

  • therealdmt

    The situation could be worse, and I mean much worse (the head of the EPA is against the EPA and the head of the Department of Energy is a non-scientist/engineer who publically ran on eliminating the Dept. Of Energy — imagine if the NASA Administrator was someone who had run on eliminating NASA or who had long worked to reduce NASA’s role and questioned the entire premise of engaging in space flight?)

    So, Bridenstine actually has long been interested in space — good start!

    I just wish he had shown some interest in space science — that’s a huge part of what makes NASA great. I’m sure he’s included bits about space science here and there, but his passions seem to clearly be military space, returning to the moon, incorporating commercial space in NASA’s activities and weather prediction.

    Anyway, could be worse. There’s just a lot of space science missions I’d like to see get started and finish during my life, and these things will take decades and they aren’t even in the works at the moment. There’s been a gap in funding planetary science during the Obama years (due in no small part to the James Webb overruns) and it’s time to get that stuff going again. Neptune and Uranus beckon, as does Mars sample return, Planetary Imager (astrophysics, but James Webb won’t actually last decades like Hubble has due to coolant supply limitations), Titan lander, Europa lander (kinda in the works), Enceladus sniffer, Venus rover and/or floater, Pluto orbiter, other dwarf planets — the list is long, the costs high, lead times are long and lifetimes are short. Let’s get on this stuff!

  • Arthur Hamilton

    Which made him more human and not an automaton for perfection in everything.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Vehicles like Falcon Heavy as well as the wave towards smaller spacecraft will make such missions more affordable, might as well wait until they are online.