by Douglas Messier
Members of the House Space Subcommittee were none-too-pleased on Wednesday when Robert Lightfoot showed up to testify about NASA’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget.
It had nothing to do with Lightfoot, whom members praised effusively for the job he’s done as acting administrator over the past 13 months. Lightfoot, a career civil servant, took over after Charles Bolden resigned as the President Barack Obama ended his term.
Instead, their anger was focused on the Senate, which has yet to take action on the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to serve as NASA’s administrator six months after President Donald Trump nominated him.
“This is not, however, a product of partisanship,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said. “This is the product of a couple of senators who are bullheaded and a couple of senators who are basically watching out for their own little domain rather than what’s good for the overall country.”
Rohrabacher’s claim is not quite correct; there is actually a sharp partisan divide over the nomination. The Senate Commerce Committee approved Bridenstine’s nomination on a party-line vote; every Democrat on the committee voted against it, every Republican for it.
During Bridenstine’s confirmation hearing, Democrats criticized him for his past dismissal of global warming as well as his positions on other political and social issues. They were also concerned about his lack of a technical or scientific background.
The full Senate is equally divided. The 49 Democrats and Independents in the upper chamber are believed to be opposed to the nomination. That leaves Bridenstine’s nomination with a narrow two-vote margin among the 51 Senate Republicans.
However, not all Republicans appear to be on board. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has expressed concerns about putting a partisan politician like Bridenstine in charge of an agency that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has expressed similar concerns. He also said that Bridenstine lacks sufficient votes to be confirmed.
Even if Rubio were to vote against the nomination, Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie. However, Sen. John McCain is currently undergoing treatment for brain cancer and is not available for Senate votes.
Lightfoot, who is the longest serving acting administrator in NASA history, said it’s best to have a person whom the president nominates in the space agency’s top job.
However, Lightfoot said he has had no trouble gaining access to Trump Administration officials he needs to communicate with in order to run the space agency and to formulate plans to return astronauts to the moon.