After six months of gridlock, the Senate finally confirmed a new head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The seat, which has remained vacant since President Obama left office, will be filled by House Rep. Jim Bridenstine. The Republican Congressman was voted in Thursday following a narrow 50 to 49 vote, which fell along party lines.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was the deciding vote. The conservative long opposed Bridenstine’s nomination but switched his sides for reasons he claimed were unrelated to the Oklahoma Congressman’s record.
The delay is highly unusual for NASA candidates, who typically receive unanimous approval in the legislature’s upper chambers.
Bridenstine, however, has been met with intense scrutiny since he was first tapped for the position last year. In addition to denying that climate change is the result of human activity, the conservative opposes same-sex marriage and affirming bathroom access for trans students in schools.
After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, Bridenstine declared the groundbreaking ruling a “disappointment.”
“The court’s decision was a disappointment not only because it is contrary to millennia of human experience, but also because it is clearly contrary to the choice of the people as expressed in a constitutionally valid process,” the lawmaker said at the time.
On same-sex marriage, he has added that “many studies have shown that both a mother and father are essential for raising successful and healthy children.”
Bridenstine also opposed LGBTQ inclusion in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
“The left’s agenda is not about tolerance, and it’s not about diversity of thought,” he said in 2013, after the organization announced it would allow openly gay youths to enroll. “It’s about presenting a worldview of relativism, where there is no right and wrong, then using the full force of the government to silence opposition and reshape organizations like the Boy Scouts into instruments for social change.”
When the Obama administration issued federal guidance in 2016 advising schools to allow trans students to use bathroom facilities which correspond with their gender identity, he referred to the decision as “lawless federal bullying.”
“We must stand against President Obama’s aggressive attempts to fundamentally transform America,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “Congress must use the ‘power of the purse’ to combat this executive overreach. Parents and schools should assert their rights to govern themselves and not submit to Obama’s lawless federal bullying.”
Advocates allege his policies represent “yet another attack on LGBTQ people” by the Trump administration, which critics say has consistently rolled back queer and trans rights since the president’s 2017 inauguration.
“It’s time for the Senate to take a hard look at the nominations they are confirming and the potential ramifications these anti-LGBTQ politicians stand to have on the LGBTQ employees in their agencies and within our country as a whole,” said Vice President of Programs at GLAAD Zeke Stokes in a statement. “Midterm elections are around the corner, and our community has a very good memory.”
“It is rather hypocritical to have an individual so entrenched in his idea of ‘traditionalism’ to be nominated to lead an agency that has for almost 60 years pushed to expand our understanding and knowledge,” added Outserve-SLDN Executive Director Matt Thorn.
“NASA is rich in diversity,” claimed the LGBTQ military group in a press release. “Rep. Bridenstine doesn’t have that same view.”
Bridenstine isn’t the first Trump pick to face backlash for his views.
Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green withdrew his nomination after following criticism for statements targeting the trans community. After the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” he warned allowing openly LGBTQ people to serve would lead to “transvestites in uniform.” Green further claimed transgender people are suffering from a “disease.”
Advocates see a pattern among these nominees.
“The Trump administration has hired unqualified anti-LGBTQ blowhards from Day One and shown they are more concerned with furthering attacks on marginalized communities than selecting leaders who will better our country,” added GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis.
Ellis further questioned how his appointment would impact LGBTQ employees of the federal space agency, who may fear bringing “their best selves to work” when their boss has spent years opposing their rights.
But Bridenstine has denied that his personal views on queer and trans people will impact his leadership in the new role. Pledging to treat his subordinates equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, the right-winger has claimed “every human being has dignity and worth.”
Aside from concerns among LGBTQ advocacy groups, other critics have noted that Bridenstine doesn’t have a science background.
The lawmaker also failed to unequivocally state that human beings are responsible for climate change. When questioned as to his stance on global warming by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Bridenstine said researchers are “just scratching the surface” as to how the planet workseven despite overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject.
Bridenstine will soon be in control of NASA’s nearly $20 billion annual budget.
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