Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) will continue to chair the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the current Congress. Newly-elected Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will be the top Republican (“Ranking Member”) on the subcommittee, replacing John Boozman (R-AK) who was Ranking Member last Congress. What type of working relationship Nelson and Cruz will have is uncertain following a heated exchange between the two yesterday during markup of Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense.
The Senate Commerce Committee held its organizational meeting today, announcing the Chairs and Ranking Members for each of its seven subcommittees. It is an authorization committee that sets policy. Although it may recommend funding levels for agencies like NASA, only the appropriations committee actually has funds to spend. The members of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA were announced yesterday.
Cruz’s appointment as Ranking Member of the Science and Space Subcommittee will keep Texas in a strong position to affect Senate policy on NASA, though a freshman Senator cannot hope to have the same level of influence as his predecessor, Kay Bailey Hutchison. Hutchison retired at the end of the 112th Congress. She was the Ranking Member of the full Senate Commerce Committee as well as the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee, putting her in a uniquely powerful position on NASA issues. Nelson and Hutchison worked closely together, jointly writing the 2010 NASA Authorization Act and keeping a watchful eye on how the White House and NASA funded the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft mandated by that Act. (Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) Source: Sen. Nelson’swebsite) (Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) Source: Sen. Cruz’s Facebook page)
Initial indications are that Nelson and Cruz may not forge such a close relationship. Both also are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and openly clashed at yesterday’s markup of Hagel’s nomination. Cruz strongly cricitized Hagel for not providing details of his finances for the past five years and implied Hagel may have been paid by extremist groups. “We do not know, for example, if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups,” he said as part of extensive remarks opposing the nomination.
Nelson was among a number of Democratic Senators angered by Cruz’s statements. Nelson said: “Mr. Chairman, Senator Cruz has stated his opinion, which he is entitled to. But I want to put on the record that this Senator feels that Senator Cruz has gone over the line. He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee … [saying] in essence, [he was] being cozy with Iran.” Nelson went on to rebuke Cruz for also suggesting that Hagel was not “truthful with this committee. … There’s a certain degree of comity and civilty that this committee has always been known for. And clearly, …. to question, in essence, whether somebody is a fellow traveler with another country, I think is taking it too far.”
About two dozen Senate Republicans had asked for Hagel to provide additional financial information, but former SASC Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) disagreed with his colleagues, concluding that Hagel already had met the committee’s “rigorous requirements.” McCain continues to be a member of SASC and a highly respected voice on national security issues. He had to step down as Ranking Member because of Senate Republican term limit rules. McCain also opposes Hagel’s nomination and SASC approved the nomination on a party-line vote yesterday. A vote by the full Senate could occur tomorrow.