Rep. Jim Bridenstine attends a news conference in Oklahoma, May 21, 2013.
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Trump’s pick to lead NASA faces some bipartisan pushback

Updated

Shortly before Election Day 2016, when it was widely assumed that Donald Trump would lose, leading Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), were taking steps to distance themselves from their party’s nominee. Some far-right GOP officials spoke up to say they didn’t appreciate the tactics.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), for example, declared, “Given the stakes of this election, if Paul Ryan isn’t for Trump, then I’m not for Paul Ryan.”

That’s the kind of loyalty this president is inclined to reward.

Representative Jim Bridenstine, Republican of Oklahoma, will be nominated by President Trump to serve as NASA’s next administrator, the White House said on Friday night.

Mr. Bridenstine, a strong advocate for drawing private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin more deeply into NASA’s exploration of space, had been rumored to be the leading candidate for the job, but months passed without an announcement.

For context, it’s worth noting that the most recent NASA chief, Charles Bolden, is a decorated war veteran who was also an astronaut for 14 years.

Bridenstine, a former Navy Reserve pilot, helped run a space museum in Oklahoma before he was elected to Congress – where he earned a reputation as one of the House’s most ardent climate deniers. (At one point, the far-right lawmaker demanded on the House floor that Barack Obama issue a public apology for his efforts to combat the climate crisis.)

While it’s true that the Oklahoma Republican has taken an interest in space-related legislation, Bridenstine’s background has some NASA allies feeling a little nervous.

As Politico reported, that includes both of Florida’s U.S. senators.

Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson wouldn’t say whether they’d buck the president and vote against Bridenstine, who was nominated Friday. But they suggested the GOP congressman’s political past would needlessly spark a partisan fight in the Senate that could ultimately damage NASA.

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson said in a brief written statement to POLITICO…. 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.

No president has ever nominated a politician to lead NASA, but as is often the case, Donald Trump does things differently.