Bridenstine confirmation hearing
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) at his Nov. 1 confirmation hearing to become NASA administrator. The Senate Commerce Committee voted on party lines Nov. 8 to advance his nomination to the full Senate. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

WASHINGTON — A letter signed by more than 60 House members calls on the Senate to advance the stalled nomination of fellow congressman Jim Bridenstine to be NASA administrator.

In the March 20 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the House members, led by space subcommittee chairman Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), argued that the impending retirement of Robert Lightfoot as the agency’s acting administrator “makes it all the more critical” the Senate act on the nomination.

“It would be a travesty to America’s space program for it to remain leaderless at this critical time when America’s space industry is making rapid advances that will set the course of space leadership for decades to come,” the House members state in the letter. “This is why it is vitally important that the Senate take up and approve Jim Bridenstine’s nomination.”

The letter highlights Bridenstine’s qualifications to lead the agency and argues that NASA needs a permanent leader in place to handle key decisions about exploration plans and the future of the International Space Station, as outlined in the agency’s fiscal year 2019 budget request and Space Policy Directive 1, signed by President Trump in December.

“Now is not the time to leave NASA rudderless,” the letter states. “We urge the Senate to confirm Jim Bridenstine swiftly and allow him to lead the world’s premier space agency into the next age of space exploration.”

The letter is signed by 61 members, including every Republican on the House Science Committee and House Armed Services Committee. Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, serves on those committees. About a dozen Democrats signed the letter, including Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), ranking member of the strategic forces subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee; and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), a member of the House Science Committee who has openly supported Bridenstine’s nomination.

While the letter was addressed to the leadership of the House and Senate, the intended recipient is arguably Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who expressed concerns about the nomination when it was first announced in September and has not formally endorsed it. With the Senate’s 49 Democrats all opposed to the nomination, and with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) still absent from the Senate due to cancer treatments, the nomination lacks the minimum of 50 votes needed for confirmation.

A spokesperson for Rubio did not respond to a request for comment March 19 regarding whether the senator would back Bridenstine’s nomination.

Democratic members of the Senate remain opposed to Bridenstine’s nomination. “The White House needs to nominate a space professional for NASA administrator who will actually garner strong bipartisan support,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said in a March 12 statement after Lightfoot announced his plans to resign from the agency at the end of April. “The current nominee doesn’t have the votes.”

“I think all of us wish that the search for his replacement was not as contentious as it has been,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said of finding a successor to Lightfoot in a March 15 speech at the American Astronautical Society’s Goddard Memorial Symposium. “I’m hopeful that we will resolve this as soon as possible because it’s very important that NASA have an administrator.”

House letter to Senate about Bridenstine nomination by Jeff Foust on Scribd

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...