Posted: 3:41 pm Tuesday, April 17th, 2018
By Jamie Dupree
Republicans in the U.S. Senate were increasingly optimistic on Tuesday that they would be able to approve President Donald Trump’s nominee for NASA Administrator this week, as GOP backers say they believe there is finally a 50th Republican ready to vote for the confirmation of Oklahoma Congressman Rep. Jim Bridenstine.
“Who moved? I’ll let them speak for themselves,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), when asked how the votes had changed on Bridenstine, whose nomination has been in limbo for months.
“I think we do have the votes,” Lankford said, in a comment echoed by other Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the number two Senate GOP leader, with signs pointing to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
— Ledyard King (@LedgeKing) April 17, 2018
For months, all Senate Democrats have been opposed to Bridenstine, while all Republicans were ready to vote for him – except for Rubio.
With Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) at home dealing with cancer, a Rubio switch – in a procedural vote as soon as Wednesday – would provide the margin of victory for Mr. Trump’s choice to run the space agency.
“I’ve heard the rumors about Sen. Rubio,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), when about a possible change of heart by his fellow Florida Senator.
But Nelson told me he had not spoken with Rubio about the matter.
Asked for comment, Rubio’s office did not respond to questions about his vote.
Voting for Bridenstine would be a big switch for Rubio, as the Florida Republican has made no secret of his concerns, worried that Bridenstine was not a space expert, and more of a politician.
Nov Rubio: "I remain very concerned about the politicization of NASA, not even because he would do it on purpose but just given some of the resistance he’s already engendered. … As of this moment, I can’t assure anyone that I would support his nomination if it came to a vote.” https://t.co/jmcxFsOb7P
— Alex Leary (@learyreports) April 17, 2018
Fellow Republicans in the Congress have tried for months to sway Rubio, but made little headway; for example, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said his outreach to Rubio showed that “he doesn’t like Jim Bridenstine.”
Bridenstine was nominated in September, and then nominated again in January after his pick was returned to the White House at the end of the First Session of the 115th Congress.
For months, he was in limbo – now that may change.
“I’m looking forward to getting the chance to vote on that nomination,” Sen. Lankford said, reminding reporters that the current acting NASA Administrator, Robert Lightfoot, will be retiring at the end of the month.
Now, Bridenstine may be ready to step into that post.
“I think we have the votes,” Lankford. “I think the time is now.”