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.”