April 19, 2018
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to run NASA." And the man who said so ought to know: astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Like a lot of experts, he couldn't understand the hold-up over President Trump's pick to run America's space agency, former congressman and Navy pilot Jim Bridenstine. For an agency used to running at warp speed, the 15-month delay isn't just unusual -- it's unnecessary. And unfortunately, Democrats weren't the only ones to blame.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had been the most outspoken holdout on the Oklahoman, insisting that NASA shouldn't be run by a "politician." But it was Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) who provided the last-minute drama on Trump's nominee, voting "no" on cloture yesterday and shocking everyone in the room. With the roll call split right down the middle, 49-49, Bridenstine's fate would have been in the hands of Vice President Mike Pence, the usual tie-breaker. There was just one problem: Pence was on a trip in Florida and couldn't be there to end the logjam.
As the minutes dragged on, Bridenstine's nomination seemed temporarily doomed. Then, after a long conversation with Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), Senator Flake walked back to the floor and switched his vote. Turns out, his opposition on cloture had nothing to do with Bridenstine. He was using it as leverage to get more time on the president's other nominee -- CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Rubio, for his part, seemed to have a complete change of heart. "The unexpected April 30 retirement of the acting administrator would leave NASA... with a gaping leadership void unless we confirm a new administrator. Because of this, I decided to support the nomination of Rep. Bridenstine. I expect him to lead NASA in a non-political way and to treat Florida fairly."
On the other side of the aisle, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) didn't let up. For months, she's been on a one-woman campaign to crush Bridenstine's nomination -- not because he isn't qualified to lead NASA, but because she objects to his conservative views. In a three-page letter to the ranking members of Commerce, Science, and Transportation, she goes on a lengthy (and often inaccurate) diatribe about Bridenstine's supposed record of discrimination, even mentioning his relationship with FRC as proof that he's unsuitable for the job.
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 the job... In a May 2013 speech, Rep. Bridenstine... stated, 'Some of us in America still believe in the concept of sexual morality, that sex is intended for one man and one woman within the institution of marriage...'
Bridenstine has also been a guest on 16 separate occasions and twice co-hosted 'Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,' a daily radio show [produced] by the Family Research Council (FRC), which has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a 'hate group'...
For siding with the president on his travel ban, he's "anti-Muslim." For protecting life, he's "anti-woman." For believing as almost half the country does on marriage, he's "anti-LGBT." And for embracing real science over liberal hype, he's "anti-environment." Of course, none of those views make Bridenstine unqualified -- they simple make him a conservative. And that is what Patty Murray actually objects to.
Fortunately, common sense prevailed, and the Senate finally sent NASA the chief they'd been waiting for by a 50-49 vote this afternoon. The real authorities on the matter, men like Buzz Aldrin, couldn't be happier. After all, it's not like Jim doesn't have industry experience. He spent plenty of time as the head of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. In a strong defense of Bridenstine, Aldrin and former White House space liaison Greg Autry spell out why the GOP did the right thing in confirming him.
It has been suggested that a 'politician' shouldn't run NASA... We'd remind those insisting that only a scientist or astronaut could run a space agency that James Webb was a lawyer by training and spent his entire career in the bowels of governmental bureaucracies. Apollo succeeded, because Webb understood people and practiced effective management.
...Jim Bridenstine is far from being a character out of House of Cards. He served with distinction as a naval aviator in Afghanistan and Iraq. He continued to serve his country in the Naval Reserve and then the Air National Guard... [He] has a triple major from Rice University that should serve him well in leading NASA: psychology, economics and business. He also holds an MBA from Cornell, an educational tool that former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin applied well when defining the successful Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
Together, they applauded Bridenstine, "a man of integrity who shares our passion for a vibrant NASA." Democrats didn't agree. But if they won't take the word of the second man on the moon, whose will they take?
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.