The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a former Navy pilot with no scientific credentials and who doesn’t believe humans are primarily to blame for the global climate crisis, to lead NASA.
Bridenstine will become the first elected official to hold the NASA administrator job. He joins a Cabinet already loaded with people who question the near-universal scientific consensus that climate change is real and that human activity is the primary cause.
The final vote ― which was 50-49 along party lines ― came one day after the Senate narrowly advanced Bridenstine’s nomination, thanks to an about-face from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and a key vote from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). Rubio, who in September told Politico that he worried about Bridenstine’s nomination “could be devastating for the space program,” said in a statement Wednesday that he decided to support the nominee in order to avoid “a gaping leadership void” at NASA.
Much like the procedural vote on Wednesday, which was temporarily deadlocked at 49-49, Thursday’s confirmation ultimately hinged on Flake, who voted in favor only after a bit of drama that included a long discussion with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and stepping out for a phone call, as CNN’s Manu Raju reports.
Bridenstine will replace Robert Lightfoot Jr., who has been serving as acting administrator since previous NASA administrator, Charles Bolden Jr., resigned from his post in January.
In a statement following Thursday’s vote, Bridenstine said he is humbled by the opportunity. “I look forward to working with the outstanding team at NASA to achieve the President’s vision for American leadership in space,” he said.