As expected, the Senate Commerce Committee narrowly approved the Trump Administration’s nominations of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers to serve as the administrators of NASA and NOAA, respectively.
The nominees were approved by 14-13 party line votes, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats in opposition. The full Senate will vote on the nominations next.
It was the committee’s second vote on the nominees. The Trump Administration had to resubmit the names this month because the full Senate did not vote on the nominations last year.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said Bridenstine has neither the relevant experience in running large organizations nor the scientific or technical background to oversee the space agency. Nelson also expressed concerns about placing a politically divisive elected official in charge of an agency that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support.
Republicans defended Bridenstine, describing him as a well-qualified war hero with an excellent understanding of the space program who would be able to work effectively with Congress.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused the Democrats of picking a partisan fight over the wrong issue. He said it would be bad for NASA and states like Texas and Florida for the space agency to continue operating without an appointed administrator.
As an Obama Administration appointee, Charles Bolden resigned as NASA administrator when President Donald Trump was sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2016. Robert Lightfoot, a civil servant, has been serving as acting administrator for the past year.
Nelson praised Lightfoot as doing a good job. He said NASA could continue to operate under his leadership while the Trump Administration searched for a more qualified candidate than Bridenstine.
Nelson said he opposed Myers because the nominee said he would not recuse himself on any decisions that might affect AccuWeather. Republicans countered that Myers has agreed to divest himself from interest in the family-owned firm.