After waiting for months to get enough votes to win confirmation, Senate Republicans have decided to press ahead this week with the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to lead NASA, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the first procedural step on Monday evening to force a final vote on President Trump’s pick to lead the space agency by late in the week.
“Congressman Bridenstine was encouraged to see a cloture petition filed in regard to his nomination as NASA Administrator,” said his spokeswoman Sharyl Kaufman, referring to a Senate effort to end debate, and spur a vote on Bridenstine, who was nominated in September.
“He is looking forward to a confirmation vote in the very near future,” she added, as a key procedural vote could take place as soon as Wednesday.
But as those procedural machinations began on the Senate floor, it wasn’t immediately clear if the GOP had cleared the way for Bridenstine’s confirmation.
For months, the vote calculus has not been in favor of Bridenstine, mainly because of one Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who has been against Bridenstine’s nomination.
With 51 Senators on the GOP side – and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) not returning to Capitol Hill soon because of his fight with cancer – Republicans cannot afford to lose a single vote, as Democrats seemingly remain united against the Oklahoma Republican Congressman.
NASA has been under an acting leader since the start of President Donald Trump’s time in office; the current acting Administrator, Robert Lightfoot, is retiring in coming weeks.
The legislative maneuvers in the Senate began as Bridenstine was out in Colorado, at the 34th Space Symposium; he was joined there by Vice President Mike Pence, who saluted the outgoing acting head of NASA and Bridenstine as well.
“Would you join me to thank Congressman Jim Bridenstine for stepping forward to serve our nation,” Pence said to applause at the space gathering, as the V.P. forcefully endorsed Trump Administration support for the space agency.
“Under President Donald Trump, America is leading in space once again,” Pence declared.
But while Mr. Trump has made clear he’s bullish on the space program, he hasn’t been able to get his NASA nominee through the Senate.
In order for Bridenstine to win, either Sen. Rubio will have to reverse his position, or a Democrat will have to break ranks.
One person at the Space Symposium told me the talk among attendees was that a change of heart by Rubio was the most likely possibility, as many on Capitol Hill don’t believe the GOP would hold this Senate vote unless Bridenstine had a majority to win.
An email on Monday evening to Rubio’s press office to ask about the Senator’s position on Bridenstine did not draw a response.
The Senate could vote on ending debate on the Bridenstine nomination for NASA as early as Wednesday.
Democrats have been against Bridenstine from the outset, charging that he is not a space expert, and angered by his views on climate change.