Alabama lawmakers vow to keep fighting on Space Command, and it could involve Trump

Rogers, in a brief interview, predicted the Alabama delegation’s fight to bring the command to Redstone will get a boost from an investigation by the Pentagon’s top watchdog into the Biden administration’s decision. He said he expects the review will “say exactly what we think: that he politically manipulated” the process.

“We’ve got two paths, both of which are good,” Rogers said. “One, the IG — inspector general — can come back and say what we know they’re gonna say, which justifies us going forward with building in Huntsville.

“And if that [does] not happen, Trump’s gonna be there. He’s going to enforce what the secretary of the Air Force said under his administration and the secretary of the Air Force said under Biden’s administration,” he added. “That is, Huntsville won the competition … and that’s where it should be and that’s where he’s going to build it.”

The continued pressure from Alabama lawmakers shows the delegation still has a legislative card to play in the bitter, yearslong dispute over which state should host the command. Colorado and Alabama leaders have traded accusations that politics drove Trump’s and Biden’s decisions — with both delegations accusing either president of rewarding a state that voted for them in the 2020 election.

Abortion politics
also fueled the debate
. Alabama’s restrictive laws were cited as a reason to prevent the command and its uniform and civilian workforce from moving there. The Biden administration said operational readiness was the sole concern in its decision to keep the command in Colorado. But Alabama’s almost entirely Republican delegation seized on reports that abortion access may be a factor to argue Biden has politicized the decision.

At issue most recently for Alabama lawmakers is Biden’s final process for deciding on Colorado. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, who supported sticking with the Trump-era call to move the command to Alabama, was directed to review the decision but was eventually told Biden would instead make the final call. Kendall testified in September that irregularities in the “very unusual and non-standard” process to decide the location were spread across both administrations.

At the time, Space Command head Gen. James Dickinson recommended staying at the temporary headquarters at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado to avoid delays in the command becoming fully operational. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin presented Kendall’s and Dickinson’s competing viewpoints to Biden,
asking him to settle the headquarters debate

Alabama lawmakers point out that Huntsville outranked Colorado Springs on most of the Air Force’s basing criteria, saying this is evidence the state won the lengthy competition fair and square.

Colorado lawmakers, meanwhile, contend that moving the headquarters across the country is needlessly expensive and disruptive. It’s an argument they’re sure to reup after Dickinson
declared the unit fully operational in a Dec. 15 town hall
at the Colorado Springs headquarters.

“The country has to move on because space is a contested domain and threats are getting worse,” said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), whose congressional district is now home to Space Command. “So we have to get down to business.”

A spokesperson for Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) argued that moving the command after it became fully operational would risk national security, waste taxpayer dollars and trigger an exodus of civilian employees who can’t relocate across the country.

But Alabama lawmakers have pressed to pause spending to build out a permanent headquarters in Colorado Springs until two independent reviews of the basing decision occurred.

Rogers fought to insert language in compromise defense legislation that blocks funding to acquire, build, plan or design a new Space Command headquarters until after June 2024, when the Pentagon inspector general and the Government Accountability Office have finished reviews into the decision to keep the command in Colorado.

Colorado lawmakers are downplaying the impact of the provision on the command’s rollout, noting that no funding has been requested for military construction projects for the Colorado Springs headquarters in fiscal 2024.

“I’m not excited about it, but I don’t think it makes much of a difference,” Lamborn said.

Lamborn, who chairs the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, also isn’t worried about the Pentagon watchdog review.

“They’re going to come up with the conclusion that the commander in chief ultimately has every right to make the decision however he wants to,” Lamborn said in an interview. “Anyone in their right mind would come to that conclusion.”

It’s unclear how Rogers and others would specifically legislate to bring the command to Huntsville, but Alabama’s delegation wields many of the major levers of power. Alabama holds two seats on the House Appropriations Committee, while Colorado has none. Alabama Sens. Tommy Tuberville and Katie Britt sit on the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees, respectively, while no Colorado senators are on either panel.

Britt pledged to use her perch on the top spending panel to fight Biden’s decision, which she argues is “putting his political preferences over our military modernization, readiness and national security.”

“The Alabama delegation is going to use every legislative lever at our disposal to expose and correct President Biden’s politically-motivated, reckless Space Command headquarters basing decision,” Britt said in a statement. “The appropriations process will continue to be a priority of mine as we work together — in bicameral and bipartisan fashion — to ensure that Space Command HQ ultimately comes to its rightful home in Alabama.”

Looming over the fight is the likely 2024 rematch of Biden and Trump, who since leaving office has
said he personally chose to send Space Command to Alabama
. If he prevails, Trump could simply reassert the decision to move the command.

“Biden just pulled a political [move] to help him in next year’s election,” Rogers said. “But he’s not going to be president after November.”