(NEW YORK) — U.S. Space Command will stay in Colorado after President Joe Biden decided to undo Trump-era plans to relocate the center to Alabama — and some are arguing the move was a political decision, despite the White House’s denials.
The decision, announced Monday, comes amid Biden’s feud with Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville over the latter’s blockade of hundreds of military appointments in an attempt to change the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
When asked whether Tuberville’s blockade influenced Biden’s decision, a senior administration official said, “No.”
“For the president, this decision came down to operational readiness and what is in the best interest of our national security,” the official said, adding the move would have pushed back the opening of a new facility to the mid-2030s.
Administration officials said Biden consulted with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and reviewed the advice of military leaders when choosing to permanently establish Space Command in Colorado Springs, where it has been headquartered since its establishment in 2019.
Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the Department of Defense and the Department of the Air Force “have worked diligently to ensure the basing decision resulted from an objective and deliberate process informed by data and analysis, in compliance with federal law and [Defense Department] policy.”
Tuberville, though, quickly blasted the move as political payback — and vowed “this is absolutely not over.”
“The Biden Administration has been talking a lot about readiness over the past few months, but no Administration has done more to damage our military readiness in my lifetime,” Tuberville said in a lengthy statement. “They’ve politicized our military, destroyed our recruiting, misused our tax dollars for their extremist social agenda, and now they are putting Space Command headquarters in a location that didn’t even make the top three.”
“This decision to bypass the three most qualified sites 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,” he continued.
Tuberville’s been single-handedly holding up hundreds of military nominations for months, drawing praise from many of his Republican colleagues but earning the ire of the Biden administration.
The president last week went after Tuberville for obstructing nominations, stating the “nonsense must stop right now.”
“A growing cascade of damage and disruption all because one senator from Alabama — and 48 Republicans refusing to stand up to him to lift the blockade — over the Pentagon policy offering servicemen and women, their families, access to reproductive health care rights they deserve — if they’re stationed in states that deny them,” Biden said at an event celebrating the 75th anniversary of the military’s desegregation.
Members of the Alabama congressional delegation, including Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, echoed Tuberville’s comments as they criticized the administration’s decision. Sewell said the choice to keep Space Command in Colorado “bows to the whims of politics over merit,” while Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the action warranted a congressional investigation.
Colorado lawmakers, on the other hand, praised the move.
“This thoughtful and correct decision guarantees operational success for decades to come and improves our national defense,” Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Army Gen. James Dickinson, the current commander of the U.S. Space Command, said he welcomed Biden’s final basing decision.
“Our priorities to ensure mission success and care for our people remain unchanged,” he said. “We will continue to meet our directives to deliver space effects to the warfighter and protect and defend the space domain.”
The news that Space Command would be moved to Alabama was announced in January 2021, during the final days of former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump later took credit for steering the Space Command to Huntsville, telling a radio host, “I single-handedly said, ‘Let’s go to Alabama."”
The Air Force at the time said Huntsville beat out six final contenders — including Colorado Springs — as it provided “a large, qualified workforce, quality schools, superior infrastructure capacity, and low initial and recurring costs.”
But that decision was also fraught with debate about whether it was politically-motivated. While the inspector general for the Department of Defense said its departmental review found the move complied with federal law and department policy, the Government Accountability Office found the process for choosing the base had “shortfalls in its transparency and credibility.”
-ABC’s Ben Gittleson, Matt Seyler and Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.
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