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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden cancels space command move to Alabama amid Tuberville feud

President Joe Biden speaks at an event touting his administration’s economic policies and progress, at Auburn Manufacturing Inc., Auburn, Maine on Friday, July 28, 2023.

By Karoun Demirjian

The Pentagon announced earlier this week that President Joe Biden had canceled an order by former President Donald Trump to move the U.S. Space Command headquarters to Alabama, prompting an outcry from Republicans who accused him of acting out of political spite amid a fierce partisan standoff over the Pentagon’s abortion access policies.

The decision came as a blockade of military promotions by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., dragged into its sixth month. Tuberville has refused to consent to the promotions of senior generals and admirals in protest of a Pentagon policy that reimburses military personnel who have to travel to obtain an abortion or fertility treatments.

House Republicans have also taken aim at the rule, instituted after the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion, adding language to the annual defense policy bill to cancel it.

Biden made his decision after the head of Space Command, Gen. James Dickinson, argued that moving the headquarters to Alabama from its current location in Colorado Springs, Colorado, would hurt military readiness, particularly as the United States is racing to compete with China in space, according to a Defense Department official who spoke about it on the condition of anonymity.

“Locating Headquarters U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs ultimately ensures peak readiness in the space domain for our nation during a critical period,” Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon spokesperson, said, arguing it would “enable the command to most effectively plan, execute and integrate military space power into multi-domain global operations.”

But in a statement, Tuberville said the reversal, which benefits a Democratic-led state, “looks like blatant patronage politics, and it sets a dangerous precedent that military bases are now to be used as rewards for political supporters rather than for our security.”

Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the Republican chair of the Armed Services Committee, promised retribution for the decision, pledging to investigate whether administration officials had intentionally manipulated the selection process.

“It’s clear that far-left politics, not national security, was the driving force behind this decision,” Rogers said in a statement. “This fight is far from over.”

In the final days of his White House tenure, in January 2021, Trump ordered that Space Command, which was established in 2019 and temporarily placed in Colorado, move to a permanent home in Alabama. After Biden took office, his administration reviewed the decision, but a final determination as to the permanent location of the command’s headquarters was delayed, while lawmakers squabbled over the extent to which Trump had selected Alabama merely to reward a deeply Republican state.

“Over the past 2 1/2 years, we have repeatedly made the case that the Trump administration’s decision to relocate U.S. Space Command was misguided,” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a statement. “Today’s decision restores integrity to the Pentagon’s basing process and sends a strong message that national security and the readiness of our armed forces drive our military decisions.”

Alabama lawmakers and their supporters in the Republican Party take an opposing view. They have long argued that Trump’s decision to place the command in Alabama settled the matter, and believed that senior military commanders were on their side. In a bid to prevent Space Command from becoming entrenched in Colorado while Biden made his decision, Republicans in the House included language in their version of the annual defense bill forbidding the military from spending any money on construction of Space Command facilities until the Biden administration made a decision about the headquarters.

“The Biden administration has chosen to play petty politics and keep the headquarters in Colorado Springs, which came in fifth in the selection phase,” Rep. Jerry Carl, R-Ala., said in a statement, promising to do “all we can to hold the administration accountable for this ridiculous decision.”

On Monday, Tuberville noted that Biden bypassed not only Alabama but also two other qualified Republican-led states, Nebraska and Texas, in making his decision.

Not all Republicans were angered by the decision, however. Colorado Republicans cheered the Biden administration, arguing that it was being practical for taking advantage of the infrastructure already in place — and that the decision was anything but partisan.

“I applaud the decision today by the Biden administration to keep U.S. Space Command where it belongs — in Colorado,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo. “Our entire congressional delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, have worked together for years to achieve this important result.”

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