How the decision on Space Command’s home will be made

If U.S. Space Command stays in Colorado, it’ll look like President Joe Biden is bending to the will of a blue state. If it moves to Alabama, he’ll be criticized for relocating a key military organization to a state that is enforcing a total abortion ban. | Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

By Alexander Ward, Lee Hudon, Connor O’Brien, Matt Berg and Ari Hawkins,
Publsihed by Politco, 16 May 2023

The Biden administration has a tough decision ahead: Where to place U.S. Space Command. It’s currently based in Colorado, where it was reestablished under a temporary HQ in 2019. But former President DONALD TRUMP said its permanent home should be in Alabama. A furious review is going on within the Air Force about whether to reverse Trump’s decision or abide by it.

Whenever it’s done, we’re told by two U.S. officials that the process will start with Air Force Secretary FRANK KENDALL briefing Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN on the result. Austin will then surely inform President JOE BIDEN about the decision, and it’s up to the commander in chief whether to weigh in. The officials were granted anonymity to detail an internal debate.

According to the people we’ve talked to, the White House still isn’t sure which way the Air Force is leaning. No recommendation has been sent over to the National Security Council, so the administration is still a while away from decision time.

“We’re trying to take into consideration all possible factors that will affect [the] final decision,” Kendall said in late April.

But when that time comes, Biden faces a no-win moment. If the command stays in Colorado, it’ll look like he’s bending to the will of a blue state. If it moves to Alabama, he’ll be criticized for following Trump’s lead and relocating a key military organization to a state that is enforcing a total abortion ban.

Those fraught politics are exacerbated by Sen. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-Ala.), who is holding up military promotions over the Pentagon’s policy to assist service members seeking an abortion.

As POLITICO first reported in February, abortion politics have entered the Space Command debate. And now it’s possible that last year’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which upended American society and roiled national politics, may be a reason why the review — which was supposed to be completed in December — is still ongoing.

Tuberville’s office contends the hold on military nominations and the Space Command headquarters decision are completely separate. The senator has called for a basing decision for a year, long before the Pentagon implemented its abortion policy, a spokesperson said.

But the fight is even more complex, as Colorado Republicans who count themselves Trump allies and opponents of abortion rights argue moving Space Command to Alabama is a mistake driven by politics. Rep. DOUG LAMBORN (R-Colo.), whose district is home to Space Command (for now) in Colorado Springs, said he hopes “that abortion would not play a role in this whole decision.”

“This is an interesting dichotomy,” Lamborn told NatSec Daily of the political cross currents on the fight. “And I happen to agree with Sen. Tuberville…that DoD should not be financing people going out and traveling to get abortions.”

Lamborn instead argued that Air Force rankings placing Colorado Springs below Huntsville were “flawed” and “very subjective.” A top factor, he said, should be when Space Command becomes fully operational in Colorado, a milestone he predicted could happen in just “a few months.”

U.S. Sen. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-Colo.) said he believes the Biden administration is trying to make sure the decision as “unpolitical as possible,” and that Tuberville’s holds aren’t part of the calculus. And to be clear, Hickenlooper believes the command should stay put.

“We’re almost at full operational capability. There’s no question that the country is better served to keep it where it is,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re in a hostile engagement with various adversaries around the world, some of which have the capability to attack our assets in space. It’s not the time to be moving things around.”

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