Today, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma as the next administrator of NASA.
Bridenstine, a Congressman from Oklahoma elected in 2012, is not a scientist. Like most members of the Trump administration, he doesn’t believe in man-made climate change. The most relevant experience to heading up the national space agency that he’s had is running the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, and he did that poorly, plummeting the museum into heavy financial losses by reportedly using its money to prop up a failing company that he co-owned.
Because of Bridenstine’s complete lack of experience, his nomination has been languishing in the Senate since President Donald Trump nominated him last September, mostly due to opposition from Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson of Florida.
“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 said in a September interview with Politico. Politico also noted that Bridenstine had attacked Rubio in TV ads for Ted Cruz during the 2016 Republican primary.
Yesterday, the vote to end debate on Bridenstine’s nomination was deadlocked at 49-49, after Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who definitely doesn’t want to run for president, had voted against it. Flake’s vote actually would have mattered, because Vice President Mike Pence—who would have broken the tie—was in Florida with Trump.
But then Flake switched his vote to a yes because, as Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told CNN: “He has an issue he wants to talk to (CIA) Director (Mike) Pompeo about. He was looking for assurances he would have that opportunity and I’m confident he will have that chance this afternoon. I think there are some issues related to travel restrictions to Cuba.”
As for Rubio, he just....changed his mind.
“While I wish the President would have nominated a space professional to run NASA, the unexpected April 30 retirement of the Acting Administrator would leave NASA, an agency whose mission is vital to Florida, with a gaping leadership void unless we confirm a new Administrator,” Rubio said in a statement on Wednesday. “Because of this, I decided to support the nomination of Rep. Bridenstine. I expect him to lead NASA in a non-political way and to treat Florida fairly.” Whatever you say, buddy.
Today was the actual confirmation vote. Rubio said beforehand, according to the Washington Post: “My view of it is, and it has been the tradition of the Senate for the entire distance of the republic, that we give great deference to the President on choosing qualifications.” Out of the 14 Obama cabinet confirmations that Rubio voted on, Rubio voted against confirming eight of those appointments. (Also, as HuffPost pointed out, this is the exact opposite explanation Rubio gave for why he voted to confirm Rex Tillerson.)
With Rubio again cowering to the will of Donald Trump, it was up to Flake, who is retiring and won’t have to worry about this shit in a few months anyway, to stop Bridenstine’s confirmation. For the second day in a row, according to CNN, Flake made it dramatic for no reason at all:
During the vote, it was clear Republican leadership wasn’t sure if the nominee would get the votes needed to be confirmed. McConnell and Cornyn were seen looking concerned by the desk where the votes are tallied in the Senate chamber.
At one point, Flake walked into the Senate chamber, didn’t speak to any of his colleagues, and then walked out after a few minutes without smiling, before finally voting.
Take a wild guess how he voted.
When walking with a group of senators after he cast his vote, Flake didn’t elaborate on why he made his decision, but said that occasionally when you have leverage on a tight vote, you use it.
“When you have some leverage when it’s a close vote, every senator does that from time to time,” Flake told reporters.
The Republican resistance to Trump: still winless after nearly three years.