If confirmed by the Senate, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) MBA ’09, who President Donald Trump nominated to lead NASA, would be the first Cornellian and first elected official to serve in that role.
Bridenstine faced blistering criticism from Democratic senators on Wednesday, however, who said the Cornell alumnus has denied that humans have a role in climate change and does not have adequate qualifications for the job. The full Senate will likely vote on whether to confirm Bridenstine early next week, news outlets reported.
After graduating from Rice University, Bridenstine served in the Navy in Afghanistan and Iraq before enrolling at Cornell and obtaining his MBA. Oklahomans elected him to represent the state’s first congressional district in 2012 and Trump, in September, picked him to run NASA, a position that requires Senate confirmation.
At the hearing on Wednesday, senators questioned Bridenstine on his previous statements denying humans’ role in climate change and his support for legislation that some senators said discriminated against the LGBTQ community.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called the Cornell alumnus a partisan warrior whose divisive policies were an example of “why Washington is broken,” The Washington Post reported.
Nelson also said Bridenstine did not possess the skills to be a “technically and scientifically competent” administrator of NASA — or to unite members of the scientific community on a “shared vision for future space exploration,” The Post reported.
Bridenstine, at the hearing, said he “absolutely” believes in climate change, and said he would be supportive of NASA’s mission for space exploration as well as studies on the Earth’s climate, vowing to keep the agency an “apolitical” organization.
He said human activity contributes to greenhouse gas levels, Politico reported, but that the scientific community is “just scratching the surface” on understanding the issue.
Bridenstine has received high-profile endorsements from Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon and Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Richard Shelby of Alabama, The Post reported.
After earning his Cornell business degree, Bridenstine served as the executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium. In the House of Representatives, he currently serves on Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee, according to his website.
He was a major sponsor of the American Space Renaissance Act, which Bridenstine, in a press release, called “comprehensive and bold policy advances and reforms necessary to ensure American leadership in space.”
NASA has not had a permanent leader since the previous administrator, Charles F. Bolden, Jr., stepped down on the first day of Trump’s presidency, on Jan. 20, 2017. This 10-month period is the longest time that NASA has not had a leader, The New York Times reported.