Politics, abortion laws not part of the decision on where to move Space Command, Air Force secretary says
Stars and Stripes May 22, 2023
WASHINGTON — Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday that state laws or political squabbles about abortion will have no impact on the decision about where Space Command headquarters will be located.
“The decision criteria for Space Command have not fundamentally changed,” he told reporters on Monday. “There is nothing in that decision criteria about state laws, that might be about abortion or gay rights. That is not part of the decision criteria.”
Alabama lawmakers have continued to tout the move of Space Command to Huntsville despite a NBC report last week that President Joe Biden’s administration is looking to keep the command at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., due to concerns about the southern state’s restrictive abortion law.
Redstone Arsenal, an Army base in Huntsville, was selected in 2021 as the preferred location for Space Command — the Pentagon's newest unified combatant command that provides command and control for all the U.S. military's space operations across all its service branches. At least three reviews have identified Huntsville as the best site for the command, though Colorado lawmakers have pushed to keep it in their state.
“Alabama is the only choice for Space Command headquarters,” Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, said Friday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the U.S. Rocket and Science Center. “No ifs, ands or buts. The Pentagon knows it. The White House knows it. And I’ll keep saying it and Alabama will keep proving it until the headquarters is officially in Huntsville.”
The White House directed the Air Force in December to conduct another review of the decision by former President Donald Trump’s administration to move Space Command to Alabama. The review was ordered a few months after Alabama’s law banning nearly all abortions, including in the case of rape and incest, went into effect last summer.
White House officials also have said the push to reexamine moving Space Command to Huntsville was not influenced by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., blocking nearly 200 of Biden’s military nominations in protest of the Pentagon’s new abortion policy.
The Defense Department in February announced a series of new policies that took effect March 18 to provide additional support to service members and dependents who must travel out of state for an abortion, including three weeks of administrative leave. The administrative leave also applies to other non-covered reproductive health care, including in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination.
Tuberville has said he believes the policies are unlawful and the current law only allows the agency to fund abortions in the case of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is threatened.
“I want to start by reminding everyone why this is happening. It’s not about abortion. ... This is about a tyrannical executive branch walking all over the United States Senate — and doing our jobs,” Tuberville said in April on the Senate floor. “I warned [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin that if he did this ... I would put a hold on his highest-level nominees. Secretary Austin went through with the policy anyway. So, I am keeping my word.”
The list of officers caught up in Tuberville’s delay include 64 three- and four-star admirals and generals for positions such as the Army chief of staff, the chief of naval operations, the commandant and assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, commander of U.S. Northern Command, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency.
The Senate typically approves military promotions all at once by a unanimous consent vote, but Tuberville’s obstruction would require the upper chamber to vote on each one by one, a process that would consume months of floor time.
Austin warned of the ripple effects the holds will have, including for service members and their families.
“Long-term holds have a corrosive and cascading effect: they prevent our rising officers and their families from being able to predict promotion and rotation windows, which can increase the pressure to leave the military in favor of greater stability,” Austin wrote in a recent letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “The more our normal promotion processes are jolted, the more we risk the loss of the diverse warfighting and technical expertise that America needs to confront its 21st-century security challenges.”
But Kendall said Monday that the tug-of-war between lawmakers to claim Space Command for their state and the stalled military nominations over Pentagon abortion policy are not driving the decision of where to maintain the command.
“It has to do with what is the right place to put the headquarters for Space Command for the U.S. government. Period,” he said.