Alabama officials fume over ‘political games’ around Space Command
Alabama officials are fuming over reports that the White House is trying to put the brakes on plans to move U.S. Space Command’s headquarters to Alabama due to concerns regarding Alabama’s strict abortion law.
The law, which took effect last summer, is one of the most restrictive in the country, banning nearly all abortions — including in cases of rape and incest. The White House had asked the Air Force to look into why the move was approved in the first place. Now, NBC News is reporting the plan may be scrapped entirely.
Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R) told The Hill he has “been worried about it for two years.”
“For some reason, the Biden administration has been making this about politics and not about merit,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we are going down that direction as we speak, but we’re not done. Hopefully they’ll wake up and understand that [for] Space Command, the best place to be is in Huntsville, Alabama.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) echoed those remarks via via Twitter Tuesday.
“Alabama is the only choice for Space Command Headquarters — no ifs, ands or buts about it. The contest wasn’t even close,” she said. “The Pentagon knows it. And the White House knows it. I’ll keep saying it, and Alabama will keep proving it until HQ is officially in Huntsville.”
It wouldn’t be the first time that a president has been accused of playing politics over the Space Command headquarters.
In 2019, then-President Trump re-established the U.S. Space Command — previously disbanded in 2002 — to oversee military operations in outer space. He selected Colorado Springs as the temporary location of its headquarters but chose Huntsville as the permanent location just before leaving office.
Colorado officials suggested that decision was the result of the 2020 election, when Colorado voted for Biden by more than 13 points.
A March letter from from Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a Republican, to the Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall suggested the decision to choose Huntsville was in fact swayed by the election. Suthers told the Washington Post that Trump told him, “I want to see how it turns out,” during a conversation about Spacecom before the election.
Trump boasted that he “single-handedly” selected Huntsville despite some Space Force officials saying that the headquarters should remain in Colorado.
Other members of his own party fumed, including Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), now chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, who called it a “horrendous decision” at the time.
“If ever there was a Trumped-up decision, this feels like one,” said Dirk Draper, the head of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, at a news conference in 2021.
After Biden took office, the military conducted extensive reviews into possible political influence over the selection process, but the reviews found nothing improper.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the delayed announcement of Space Command’s relocation is “beyond frustrating.”
Rogers said the decision to relocate the headquarters to Huntsville was made with merit, noting the approval of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Pentagon Inspector General.
“That decision was based on two studies — they took into account several factors including quality of life, available infrastructure, and workforce capabilities,” the congressman said in a statement. “Huntsville, Alabama finished first in both.”
“It is well past time for the Department of Defense along with the Administration to stop playing political games and affirm Huntsville as Spacecom’s new home,” he said.
However, the GAO report did identify what it calls “significant shortfalls in the transparency and credibility” of the process and made recommendations that the Air Force develop guidelines for future decisions regarding base locations.
The prospective location for Spacecom is an Army base called Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, which is already home to many companies in the space industry including NASA, United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin and many more. A move there could draw more than 1,400 U.S. service members and their families, contractors and civilian employees, to the area.
White House officials have indicated the delay is in fact due to concerns over operations disruptions — amid the war between Russia and the Ukraine and rising concerns about China — rather than abortion laws.
The administration also refuted the suggestion that the delayed decision to move has anything to do with Tuberville’s block of approximately 180 military nominations.
Tuberville is holding up general and flag officer nominations in protest to a new Pentagon policy that reimburses service members for travel costs to receive an abortion if they live in states where the procedure is banned.
That policy would come into play in Alabama.
When choosing the location of military installations, the government looks at factors such as access to health care, room for growth, access to housing, proximity to airports, cost and overall quality of life. Under Alabama’s abortion law, Spacecom personnel’s access to reproductive health care would be severely limited, especially when most of the personnel would be civilians who do not live on a military base.
Kendall, the Air Force Secretary, was tasked with making the final decision about where Spacecom will be based and indicated he knew nothing about Biden trying to halt any move of Spacecom headquarters.
Tuberville said he speaks with Kendall “quite often” and did not believe any final decision had been made.
The Biden administration has tasked Kendall with reviewing the location decision to see if any factors had changed since the selection.
“We’re trying to take into consideration all possible factors that will affect the final decision,” Kendall said last month.
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