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He is also trying to separately secure more money to give the agency a face lift. “I have clearly articulated the need for $5 billion of infrastructure needs for all 10 NASA centers and an additional 10 NASA facilities,” he said.

Nelson, who represented Florida in the House and Senate, says he is seeking ways to engage more with China on common space challenges, even with the strict legal prohibitions placed on space cooperation with Beijing. “We certainly need to cooperate on orbital debris that could strike our space station as well as theirs that they are putting up,” he said. “There are areas of cooperation that we can do with China.”

He discussed NASA’s decision to award a single contract to SpaceX for the Human Landing System, kicking off a protest by Blue Origin and Dynetics. Nelson also spoke about why he thinks NASA is the right place for more scientific inquiry into the recent spate of UFO reports. “It all fits with NASA’s mission for extra territorial intelligence.”

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

How much does the protest of the Human Landing System complicate the moon goal?

That could have a major alteration depending on how the [Government Accountability Office] rules. But once we know the ruling, the Congress has made it very clear to me that they want competition. So if the quasi-judicial proceeding rules that the award stands, they want competition in the next set of landings that will occur over the course of the decade. We will do that. And I have explained to the appropriators and the authorizers in both houses that we have to have some money to do that.

The NASA budget that came out last year was OK in most areas, but it was entirely deficient in Artemis. That’s what we’re dealing with, and we’re going to have to have some more money. I’ve suggested to them that a way to do it is in the jobs bill. There’s an R&D section of the jobs bill, if they can pass a jobs bill, as well as an infrastructure part, which also NASA desperately needs. It fits very nice with the research and development part.

What has the response been?

I am very optimistic because of the support that I’ve heard directly from senators and congressmen.

What are the other infrastructure needs NASA has?

I have made clear in no uncertain terms that NASA is really hurting on the deterioration of its physical facilities. We’ve even got holes in the roof at the Michoud facility outside of New Orleans where they put together the core of the SLS rocket.

I have clearly articulated the need for $5 billion of infrastructure needs for all 10 NASA centers and an additional 10 NASA facilities. I’ll give you an example. Wallops Island launch facility [is] one of the ones on the top of the list.

You mentioned the Space Launch System. There is a lot riding on that program.

The rocket is ready to fly at the end of this year. It is being stacked in the vehicle assembly building as we speak at Kennedy Space Center. It had its core stage four engine test. It ran for eight minutes, the time needed to get to orbit, without a flaw.

You met with your Russian counterpart Dmitry Rogozin last week. What’s your vision for space cooperation?

Our politics have become very strained. But where is the one area that we have been able to cooperate? It’s been ever since 1975, when an American spacecraft in the middle of the Cold war rendezvoused and docked with a Russian spacecraft, and the crews lived together for nine days. Ever since we have been cooperating. We have extraordinary cooperation.

The rhetoric out of Moscow in regards to space is is getting nastier.

Despite the politics, and some of the rather less than soft statements you hear that sound more political, nevertheless if you talk to the Russian space workers, they want this cooperation to continue with the Americans. So I talked to Rogozin about this. I’ve said, “This is unique, the kind of relationship where we can be at peace cooperating with each other, no matter what our rivalries are on terra firma.” We are partners in space, and I don’t want that to cease.

We’ve seen, for example, just recently they’ve got some kind of module that they are going to launch to the International Space Station, which I think is a pretty good indication that they’re not going to abandon it in four years.

What about talking to China? Is that in the cards?

There are places where we need to cooperate and deconflict on any possible orbits. We certainly need to cooperate on orbital debris that could strike our space station as well as theirs that they are putting up. There are areas of cooperation that we can do with China … recognizing the limits under law that have been placed upon us and recognizing also the realities that the Chinese haven’t been very transparent.

You have directed your top scientist to investigate military reports of unmanned aerial phenomenon.

A couple of years ago, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I was briefed on what those Navy pilots saw, and I have talked to the Navy pilots. They are quite convinced. And these are realistic folks. This isn’t some UFO tin-foil hat kind. These are pilots who locked their radar on it. They tracked and then they saw it move so fast that they couldn’t believe it. And then they went and tracked it again, locked their radar on it in a new position. So there’s some phenomenon that we need to explain.

Why NASA?

NASA is a natural place. Part of NASA’s science missions is the search for extraterrestrial life (SETI). When we bring a sample back from Mars … what we’ll be looking at is, are there any examples of fossils that might indicate that there were some kind of life, millions and millions of years ago?

Another example: We just had now a sample return on its way from the asteroid Bennu. In that sample, will we see anything in the elements that we get back that would indicate these are the composite elements that could have formed life?

So this is a serious effort by NASA, and it’s been a mission of NASA. And therefore, me asking the top scientist here if he would focus some of his research on what might be this phenomenon that we are seeing — that the military pilots are — it all fits with NASA’s mission for extraterrestrial intelligence.

How formal is your direction on unidentified aerial phenomena?

It is formal in the sense that the scientist that is the head of our science mission directorate, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, I have had several conversations with him, most recently 10 minutes ago, about this very topic and about what he has been doing on SETI and now what he is further doing in an inquiry to see if we have any scientific explanation for some of this.


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Garland pauses federal executions as DOJ reviews policies

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Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday paused federal executions as the Department of Justice reviews its death penalty policies and procedures.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guar anteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” Garland said in a statement. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”

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Legal battles over the traditional three-drug protocol for carrying out execution by legal injection, and a shortage of sodium thiopental — one of the drugs — led to a two-decade lapse in federal executions. But then-Attorney General Bill Barr ordered federal prisons to resume executions in 2019, after making changes to the federal execution protocols.


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New York Assembly OKs subpoenas in Cuomo impeachment probe

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Additionally, members have taken the technical step of issuing a commission to the law firm of Davis Polk, which the Assembly has retained to handle much of the probe. That step “allows our independent counsel to take testimony under oath,” Lavine said.

The Assembly launched its investigation of Cuomo in March. It is probing a litany of allegations made against Cuomo on subjects ranging from sexual harassment to the governor’s $5.1 million book deal.

State Attorney General Tish James is examining several similar issues. She started issuing subpoenas in March.

James said last week that she does not “share information” with the Assembly investigators. But Abinanti said on Wednesday that the granting of a commission to Davis Polk opens up that possibility, “because now they are authorized to subpoena the same information the attorney general’s office is subpoenaing … so I would assume the attorney general’s office would feel more comfortable cooperating with our counsel.”

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Wednesday’s meeting was notable as the Assembly’s first mostly in-person committee meeting since state government shut down in March 2020. Since Cuomo ended New York’s state of emergency last week, the Legislature is now fully subjected to the Open Meetings Law, and the public was allowed into the room in the state Capitol for five minutes. The remainder of the roughly two-hour gathering took place in executive session.

Does the issuing of subpoenas mean that the investigation of Cuomo is nearing an end?

“Oh no, not yet, no no,” Abinanti said. “Let’s face it, we’ve given [Davis Polk] a huge task. There’s a lot of issues for them to look at.”


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Opinion | Republicans Shouldn’t Sign on to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

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The conventional wisdom is that the Senate has to prove that it can work, and the test of its functioning is how much of Biden’s spending Republicans endorse.

This is a distorted view of the Senate’s role, which shouldn’t be to get on board a historic spending spree for which Biden won no mandate and which isn’t justified by conditions in the country (it’s not true, for instance, that the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling).

Besides, if bipartisan spending is the test, the Senate just a few weeks ago passed a $200 billion China competition bill by a 68-32 vote. It used to be that $200 billion constituted a lot of money, but now it doesn’t rate, not when there’s $6 trillion on the table.

The infrastructure deal lurched from gloriously alive to dead when Biden explicitly linked its passage to the simultaneous passage of a reconciliation bill with the rest of the Democratic Party’s spending priorities in it.

Then, it revived again when Biden walked this back, and promised a dual track for the two bills.

The fierce Republican insistence on these two tracks doesn’t make much sense and amounts to asking Democrats to allow a decent interval before going ahead with the rest of their spending—Democrats are going to try to pass a reconciliation whether the bipartisan deal passes or not.

At the end of the day, then, there’s only one track: Democrats are going to spend as much money as they possibly can. The bipartisan deal might shave some money off the hard infrastructure priorities (according to Playbook, the White House says it doesn’t want to double dip, on say, electric cars or broadband by getting some money for them in the deal and then getting yet more in the reconciliation bill). But the emphasis is going to blow out spending across the board.

The calculation of Republicans supporting the bill is that a significant bipartisan package can take some of the heat off of Sen. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema in their resistance to the filibuster.

A deal that passes and is signed into law will certainly be a feather in their caps, but it’s hard to believe they’d change their minds on the filibuster if the deal fell apart.

They are both so extensively and adamantly on the record in favor of the filibuster that a climb-down would be politically embarrassing and perilous. They may be sincere in believing that the filibuster is important institutionally to the Senate. But the politics also work by allowing them to brand themselves as a different breed of Democrat.

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If they flip-flip on the filibuster, they release the brake on the left-most parts of the Democratic agenda and find themselves taking a lot of tough votes on priorities dear to the Democratic base.

Republicans supporting the deal also think that it will make passing the subsequent reconciliation bill harder. First, the parts of infrastructure that have the widest support—roads and bridges—will be in the deal and not in the reconciliation bill. Second, the unwelcome tax increases excluded from the bipartisan deal will be in the reconciliation bill.

This isn’t a crazy calculation, although it’s not clearly correct, either. The higher the top-line number is for the reconciliation bill, the harder it is to pass. By allowing Democrats to cleave off some of their spending into a bipartisan deal, the overall number for the reconciliation bill gets smaller. In other words, the bipartisan deal could make the partisan reconciliation easier rather than harder to pass.

If this is true, the deal is bipartisanship in the service of a partisan end.

It not as though Biden is fiscally prudent on all other fronts, except in this one area which he considers a particularly important national investment with unmistakable returns. No, he’s universally profligate. His reckless spending on all fronts (except defense) makes it more imperative for Republicans to stake out a position in four-square opposition.

It’s not as though the bipartisan bill is exemplary legislation, by the way. It resorts to all the usual Beltway gimmicks to create the pretense that it’s paid for, when it’s basically as irresponsible as the rest of the Biden spending.

Bipartisanship has its uses, but so does partisanship. Joe Biden wants to be known for his FDR- and LBJ-like government spending, believing that it’s the key to political success and to an enduring legacy. Fine. Let him and his party own it.


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