op-ed

Bridenstine Pummeled During NASA Confirmation Hearings

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma, finally got his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday for administrator of NASA. The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida set the tone with a merciless and unrelenting attack on Bridenstine’s character, accusing him of being an overly partisan politician, thus unsuited to be NASA administrator. Nelson, it should be mentioned, was not always so squeamish about politicians getting too involved with NASA. During the 1980s, as a congressman, he used his political muscle to grab a ride on the space shuttle.

Other Democrats were just as vicious, as Space News points out. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii pounded Bridenstine on climate change, suggesting that some of his past statements that were skeptical of the theory that human actions are causing the Earth to warm dangerously, were disqualifying. More than one Democrat repeated the long-discredited myth that 97 percent of climate scientists believe that climate change is real and a threat.

The congressman was also accused of being bigoted against LGBTQ people because of his past opposition to same-sex marriage, the position once held by Hillary Clinton and former President Obama. He was also accused of not liking women very much because of a vote against the Violence against Women Act, though the vote was on constitutional grounds. Bridenstine was said to be consorting with “hate groups” so called by the Southern Poverty Law Center. As the Columbia Daily Herald points out, the SPLC tends to be somewhat careless about what it labels as a “hate group.”

Bridenstine, who was clearly annoyed at the hostile tone of much of the questioning from the Democratic senators, attempted to answer the questions put to him in a calm, rational manner. He has, for instance, grown to accept that human-caused climate change is a real thing, though he was reticent about agreeing that human beings cause the bulk of global warming. He said that all human beings have worth and dignity, regardless of sexual preference or any other characteristic. He will enforce anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policies at the space agency with great vigor. Bridenstine promised not to pressure scientists to change their stated opinions on climate change.

The Republican members of the committee were clearly shocked at the pile-on of Bridenstine that their Democratic colleagues were committing, Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas said it best when he stated, “I would say to my Democratic friends on this committee, that if the confirmation ends up going down to a party-line vote, I think that would be deeply unfortunate for NASA and for the space community.”

One would like to think that stratagem exists behind the Democrats’ desire to rough-up Bridenstine. He will be an independent NASA Administrator who will be willing to go outside the box to get America back into the space exploration business. He is well regarded by the aerospace and scientific communities. Perhaps the Democratic senators want to derail Bridenstine’s confirmation so that the next nominee will know who is boss. Perhaps they are acting out of irrational rage brought on by the election of President Donald Trump.

Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.  He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times, and the Washington Post, among other venues.


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