The Washington Post reports that Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma had his confirmation hearings before the Senate Commerce Committee for the post of NASA administrator. Led by ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, committee Democrats tag teamed against him, accusing the Oklahoma lawmaker of being everything from a climate change “denier” to a partisan politician. Bridenstine was also savagely attacked for his opposition to same-sex marriage to his vote (on Constitutional grounds) against the Violence Against Women Act. The Democrats conducted what amounted to a coordinated attempt to take down Bridenstine’s nomination.

Republicans shocked by the attacks

Bridenstine has warm support for his nomination from commercial space groups, eminent scientists, and even Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin. The Republican members of the Commerce Committee expressed shock at the partisan savaging that Bridenstine underwent. Sen Ted Cruz, R-Texas expressed the sentiments of the Republican members, according to Space News, when he said, “I would say to my Democratic friends on this committee, that if the confirmation ends up going down to a party-line vote, I think that would be deeply unfortunate for NASA and for the space community.” Another Senator, sarcastically summoning the spirit of Joe McCarthy, asked Bridenstine, “Are you or have you ever been a conservative?”

What are the Democrats up to?

It would be easy to conclude that the Democratic members are merely up to the strategy of obstruction that they have employed against other Trump nominees, albeit with unbecoming nastiness.

However, a far darker purpose may be in play here. Bridenstine, during his time in the House, has led efforts to reform how the United States conducts space policy through his sponsorship of the American Space Renaissance Act. He is a warm supporter of focusing NASA on space exploration through partnerships with commercial companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.

In this Bridenstine is aligned with the policy thrust of the Trump administration.

The Democrats may be sending a signal that any attempt to change business as usual at NASA is not going to happen if they have anything to say about it. The excuses that they are employing against Bridenstine’s nomination are nonsense. The congressman is not going to discriminate against women and gays nor is he going to muzzle NASA scientists on the subject of climate change.

They are, if one reads between the lines, terrified at the idea of an experienced politician who knows how to deal with Congress running the space agency.

Cruz is likely correct that Bridenstine is likely to be confirmed, albeit on a party-line vote. However, the Democrats have done damage to Congress’ relations with NASA with their partisan posturing.