Biden decides to keep Space Command in Colorado, rejecting move to Alabama

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FILE - President Joe Biden greats a group of Thunderbird pilots after arriving at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Biden has decided to keep U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado, overturning a last-ditch decision by the Trump administration to move it to Alabama and ending months of politically fueled debate, according to senior U.S. officials. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden has decided to keep U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado, overturning a last-ditch decision by the Trump administration to move it to Alabama. The choice ended months of thorny deliberations, but an Alabama lawmaker vowed to fight on.

U.S. officials told The Associated Press on Monday that Biden was convinced by the head of Space Command, Gen. James Dickinson, who argued that moving his headquarters now would jeopardize military readiness. Dickinson's view, however, was in contrast to Air Force leadership, who studied the issue at length and determined that relocating to Huntsville, Alabama, was the right move.

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The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of Biden’s rationale for the decision.

In announcing the plans, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said the decision was based on an “objective and deliberate process informed by data and analysis.” He said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin supported the president’s decision.

Reaction to the decision came fast and was sharply divided, as Colorado lawmakers praised it and Alabama officials slammed it as a political maneuver. “This fight is far from over,” warned Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Biden, said the U.S. officials, believes that keeping the command in Colorado Springs would avoid a disruption in readiness that the move would cause, particularly as the U.S. races to compete with China in space. And they said Biden firmly believes that maintaining stability will help the military be better able to respond in space over the next decade. Those factors, they said, outweighed what the president believed would be any minor benefits of moving to Alabama.

Biden's decision enraged Alabama lawmakers and is sure to fuel accusations that abortion politics played a role in the choice. The location debate has become entangled in the ongoing battle between Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville and the Defense Department over the move to provide travel for troops seeking reproductive health care. Tuberville opposed the policy is blocking hundreds of military promotions in protest.

The U.S. officials said the abortion issue had no effect at all on Biden's decision. And they said the president fully expected there would be different views on the matter within the Defense Department.

Tuberville, in a statement, said the top three choices for Space Command headquarters were all in Republican-leaning states — Alabama, Nebraska and Texas — and bypassing them “looks like blatant patronage politics.”

Formally created in August 2019, the command was temporarily based in Colorado, and Air Force and Space Force leaders initially recommended it stay there. In the final days of his presidency Donald Trump decided it should be based in Huntsville.

The change triggered a number of reviews.

Proponents of keeping the command in Colorado have argued that moving it to Huntsville and creating a new headquarters would set back its progress at a time it needs to move quickly to be positioned to match China’s military space rise. And Colorado Springs is also home to the Air Force Academy, which now graduates Space Force guardians, and more than 24 military space missions, including three Space Force bases.

Officials also argued that any new headquarters in Alabama would not be completed until sometime after 2030, forcing a lengthy transition.

Huntsville, however, scored higher than Colorado Springs in a Government Accountability Office assessment of potential locations and has long been a home to some of earliest missiles used in the nation’s space programs, including the Saturn V rocket. It is home to the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command.

According to officials, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, who ordered his own review of the matter, leaned toward Huntsville, while Dickinson was staunchly in favor of staying put. The officials said Austin presented both options to Biden.

In a statement Monday, Kendall said the service will work to quickly implement Biden's decision, adding that keeping the command in Colorado will “avoid any disruption to its operational capability.”

The decision was hailed as a victory in Colorado lawmakers and condemned in Alabama.

“For two and a half years we’ve known any objective analysis of this basing decision would reach the same conclusion we did, that Peterson Space Force Base is the best home for Space Command," Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., said in a statement. “Most importantly, this decision firmly rejects the idea that politics — instead of national security — should determine basing decisions central to our national security.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said the 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.”

Rogers, meanwhile, vowed that his committee will continue an investigation into the matter, calling it a “deliberate taxpayer-funded manipulation of the selection process.” He added, “It’s clear that far-left politics, not national security, was the driving force behind this decision.”

Republican Alabama Sen. Katie Britt echoed his sentiment, saying it was irresponsible for Biden to “yank a military decision out of the Air Force’s hands in the name of partisan politics.” She said an Air Force evaluation of the potential locations ranked Huntsville first, adding that the decision ”should have remained in the Air Force’s purview.”

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Associated Press writer Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Ala., contributed to this report.