In an “unprecedented party-line” vote, the US Senate confirmed Representative Jim Bridenstine to serve as NASA’s 13th administrator. The 50-49 vote comes more than seven months after President Trump first nominated the tea party congressman last fall.
Historically, the space agency has steered clear from partisanship; Bridenstine’s three predecessors – two of whom were nominated by Republicans – were all approved unanimously, reports The New York Times.
Controversial political stances, which include statements against gay marriage and doubts on whether humans are the cause of climate change, have fueled contentions along party lines as to whether the former US Navy fighter pilot has the scientific credentials required to fill the role.
Serving as Chairman of the House Science Committee, Bridenstine notoriously cited in 2015 a debunked argument claiming global temperatures “stopped rising 10 years ago” and that “the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept” an apology from former President Barack Obama for the government’s “gross misallocation” of funds dedicated to climate change research, according to the Huffington Post.
He’s since changed his tune – but only slightly.
"I believe carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, I believe that humans have contributed to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," Bridenstine reportedly said at his November confirmation hearing, before continuing that he wasn’t sure to what extent humans are responsible for climate change, “but I do know that humans have contributed to global warming."
IFLScience reached out to the Congressman’s office for a comment on his stance on climate change. At the time of publication, we did not receive a response.
Critics of the confirmation, including the likes of former astronaut turned Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), contend Bridenstine doesn't have the scientific background required to make budget and engineering decisions for the more than 18,000 NASA employees.
Before his 2012 election to Congress, Bridenstine served as the executive director for Oklahoma’s Air and Space Museum & Planetarium.
Vice President Mike Pence congratulated the representative, saying the administration looks forward to restoring "America's proud legacy of leadership in space – essential to our nat'l security & prosperity".
NASA has been without a permanent director since the end of the Obama administration. Bridenstine will replace Lightfoot, who had been standing in after former administrator Charles Bolden resigned in January.
“I’m very pleased to welcome Jim Bridenstine to NASA,” said Lightfoot. "[Bridenstine] joins our great agency at a time when we are poised to accomplish historic milestones across the full spectrum of our work.”
Curious how your Senators voted? You can view the full record here.