The mid-term congressional elections in November were both good and bad news for US President Donald Trump as he both won and lost in the two houses of Congress. With the beneficial backdrop of a rapidly growing economy, a campaigning Donald Trump also managed to tap into the resentment that the politically-left-of-centre establishment is ignoring white working class concerns over illegal immigration, being discriminated against (via pro-minority positive discrimination), and over US-job eating globalisation, to win back two Senate seats for the Republican Party, adding to its majority. This bodes well for Trump’s re-election attempt in 2020 given the electoral college system will play to his favour.
However, US political analysts note that there was also a backlash from women voters – especially middle class university-educated women – who were angry over Trump’s apparent misogyny and bullying, concerned about his stirring of racial tensions and over his unpopular reversal of Obama’s heath care reforms, and irritated by his boastful style and his unpredictable/duplicitous nature. They suggest that it was this backlash which led the House of Representatives to fall back into Democrat hands as again Trump trailed in the nationwide “popular” vote (all the votes cast).
This change of control is important as this majority means that the Democrats now not only control investigations into Trump’s previous electoral campaign and into his personal affairs which could theoretically lead to his impeachment, but also controls the US government’s own overall budget allocations including that going to NASA.
So what will this mean for space? While NASA’s budget and plans are not controversial and have both cross-party and public support, especially now that a popular human return to the Moon is on the cards, one measure taken by Donald Trump is at least likely to be partially reversed: his cutting of NASA unmanned missions aimed at proving climate change’s relationship to greenhouse gas emissions.
While President Trump now accepts that global warming/climate change is underway, he has made it clear that he still does not believe that carbon dioxide produced by human activities is in any way a cause. As such, one of his first actions as President was to cancel some of NASA’s missions to observe the Earth’s environment and to monitor carbon generation on Earth. These missions included the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite, the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder, and the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI) on the NASA/NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System 2 due to be launched in 2021. Now at least some of these are likely to be reinstated – albeit that extra money will have to be found for NASA to do so.
As it is, even before this election changed its control, the House of Representatives managed to fend off Trump administration’s attempts to cut other Earth science missions via a cut to NASA’s earth science budget. This missions included the integrated satellite and aircraft-based Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 (OCO-3) spacecraft.
Comment by David Todd: You know you are in trouble when you find yourself wistfully reminiscing about what a wonderfully wise President George W. Bush was. When U.S. President Donald Trump took office this column advised that he should at least be given a chance to prove himself. After two years he has had that chance – and he may have blown it. For while he made some gains in this mid-term election, and has won admirers for his decisiveness and for his campaigning, there is trend evidence that that his popularity falling especially amongst women voters. And this writer’s prediction is that without them he will not win the next Presidential election – electoral college advantage or not. Nevertheless, by not having unlimited power via the loss of the House of Representatives, this might actually work for Donald Trump. It may stop some of his more ill-advised policies – the Mexican wall comes to mind, as does the cancellation of NASA’s environmental missions, or his ending of the nuclear deal with Iran – and thus this may actually make him more re-electable in 2020.