The assistant leader of Senate Democrats on Thursday urged her Senate colleagues to vote against the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to be the next NASA administrator.
“Bridenstine’s denial of climate science” and his opposition to equal rights for women, immigrants, and others “should disqualify him from consideration,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wrote in a blistering letter opposing the nominee.
Murray sent the letter to Sen. John Thune (R-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, as well as the committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). The committee will hold a nomination hearing for Bridenstine on 1 November.
In her letter, Murray wrote that NASA has played a singular role in American life that 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,” she wrote. “Given his very public statements and positions, it is clear Representative Bridenstine would move us backwards not forwards, and I urge you to vote against his nomination.”
The Right Stuff?
The White House on 1 September announced its intention to nominate Bridenstine to lead NASA. Bridenstine, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot who serves on the House’s Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the Committee on Armed Services, has shown strong interest in space. Last April, for instance, he sponsored the American Space Renaissance Act (H.R. 4945), which focuses on the need to project U.S. military strength, encourage commercial space innovation, and promote stability and mission clarity at NASA.
Bridenstine, who was elected to Congress in 2012, previously was executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium in Oklahoma. He does not have a science background.
Critics have charged that as the first elected official to lead NASA, he could politicize the agency. They also have taken issue with past statements by Bridenstine downplaying human causes of climate change, although the congressman also has said he is “not opposed” to studying climate change. Recently, he has also tried to walk back some of his earlier comments about climate change.
A spokesperson for Sen. Nelson, whose state has important space installations and thousands of aviation and aerospace companies, told Eos that Nelson also opposes Bridenstine’s nomination. “Sen. Nelson has made it clear he believes the head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” said the spokesperson. “It’s hard to see how Rep. Bridenstine’s qualifications and controversial views fit that bill.”
Support from a Democratic Congressman
A spokesperson for Rep. Bridenstine told Eos that the congressman is not commenting on issues or providing interviews during the confirmation process. However, his office pointed to recent support from Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), who currently serves with Bridenstine on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
Bridenstine “is well equipped to lead NASA,” Perlmutter wrote in a 20 October commentary in the Orlando Sentinel. Perlmutter said that the nation’s exploration goals “require a leader committed to NASA’s diverse directorates supporting technological and scientific development.”
Bridenstine “has a firsthand perspective on the need to better understand our Earth and the behavior of the atmosphere,” he continued in the commentary. “He has a keen awareness of the important Earth science missions NASA is undertaking and wants to continue to advance our understanding of the planet.”
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer