NASA Chief Picks His Battles Carefully To Advance Trump’s Agenda

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine earned praise from across the political aisle when he said mankind influenced the climate “in a major way,” reversing his long-held position as a global warming skeptic.

But there’s another dimension to Bridenstine’s newfound agreement with the climate “consensus,” according to a veteran political strategist.

“I think it gives him more room to maneuver in all kinds of dimensions, including space, and ironically, climate,” Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The Senate confirmed Bridenstine in a 50-to-49 party-line vote in April. Democrats opposed Bridenstine’s taking the helm of NASA because of his questioning of man-made global warming and his conservative stances on social issues.

But Bridenstine changed his tune on man-made warming one month later. Bridenstine told Congress in May he “had no reason to doubt the science” in the National Climate Assessment special report released in 2017.

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii pressed Bridenstine during the May hearing, asking the NASA head if he would commit to funding climate science at NASA. “Without question,” Bridenstine responded.

“I just want to recognize your evolution on this issue,” Schatz said in the hearing. “I think it’s essential for one of the premier science agencies of the federal government for you to abide by the science.”

And with one move Bridenstine nullified a core criticism brought by Democrats and the media against him and the broader Trump administration; that it’s “anti-science.” (RELATED: Scientists Say There’s ‘No Indication’ Trump Tried To Suppress Climate Change Report)

“I think it’s especially important because, as you know, you are the first NASA administrator that was an elected official,” Schatz said. “You are also the first NASA administrator with an essentially partisan confirmation vote, so we needed to move through this period of ideological disagreement, political disagreement, and back to the point where the NASA administrator is a leader of a science agency and you can’t lead a science agency if you are not grounded by the science.”

McKenna said Bridenstine’s maneuvering on global warming will ultimately help a major priority of the Trump administration — space exploration.

In recent years, NASA has been mired by an internal tug-of-war between Earth sciences and space exploration. The Obama administration funneled money from space exploration to fund Earth sciences, including global warming research.

The Trump administration wants to shift NASA priorities away from Earth sciences and back to space exploration and research.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 to put men back on the moon, then send astronauts to Mars. The president signed orders on May 24 to let private enterprise take a leading role in space exploration and development.

“We’re bringing that whole space flight back. We’ll be sending something very beautiful to Mars in the very near future,” Trump said at a March cabinet meeting. “We’re going to areas that nobody thought possible, certainly not this quickly, so we’re very proud.”

House lawmakers put forward legislation to give NASA a $1.65-billion budget boost in 2019, which is $810 million more than the White House asked for in its 2019 budget proposal.

However, the White House’s proposal eliminates five NASA Earth science missions, redirecting that $133 million to more high-priority programs for exploration and science. The proposal also calls for eliminating NASA’s $100-million education program and $105-million space telescope.

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