Tuberville slams lack of decision on Space Command headquarters, blames politics
Stars and Stripes July 26, 2023
WASHINGTON — Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who continues to block hundreds of military promotions in protest of a Pentagon policy, said Wednesday on Capitol Hill that he thinks politics is getting in the way of putting U.S. Space Command’s permanent headquarters in his home state.
“It’s been three years, and we do not have a permanent home yet for Space Command, and it’s a shame that we have gotten into politics,” the Alabama Republican said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider two of President Joe Biden’s recent military nominees. “Even for Washington, it’s been very slow for … us to have a permanent home for Space Command. So, hopefully we get that done in the near future.”
The hearing was held to consider the nominations of Air Force Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot as the leader of U.S. Northern Command and Space Force Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting as leader of Space Command. The nominations would promote each officer to a four-star general.
Alabama and Colorado are two top candidates being considered as headquarters for Space Command. Redstone Arsenal, an Army base located in Huntsville, has long been considered a suitable choice, though Space Command has been temporarily based at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs since the command was established in 2019.
A freshman senator and former college football coach, Tuberville has been at odds with the Pentagon since February, when he began holding up more than 200 military promotions — including those of top nominees such as Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown and Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith — over a military policy that allows service members to be reimbursed for travel to another state, if needed, to seek reproductive care. The policy is a response to several states severely restricting or banning abortions in the past year.
Guillot and Whiting said Wednesday that they agree with Tuberville that politics ought to be kept out of military decision-making, particularly given increased threats recently stemming from Russia’s war in Ukraine and rising Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
“It is my responsibility to provide … my candid and unvarnished views … regardless of political priorities,” said Guillot, the deputy commander of U.S. Central Command. “Civilian leaders are free to incorporate all, some, or none of my advice, but my duty to the Constitution is to provide it.”
“Military personnel, and commanders in particular, must be rigorously apolitical,” Whiting said. “My best military advice will always be based on a factual assessment of any given situation. … It will not be swayed by civilian political priorities.”
Some news reports have questioned whether Tuberville’s hold on promotions also might be an effort to influence Space Command’s move to Redstone Arsenal, which would bring a number of high-paying jobs to the Huntsville area. Alabama, however, has some of the strictest abortion laws in the United States, which could affect a decision from the Biden administration. News reports have said the administration prefers that Space Command stay in Colorado, where abortion remains protected. Tuberville has denied his anti-abortion stance is related to Space Command.
“That decision needs to be made,” Whiting, who now leads Space Operations Command, said about where Space Command will be headquartered.
“Let us know what we need to do to help,” Tuberville said.
Tuberville has repeatedly defended his action, which prevents the Senate from simultaneously confirming large numbers of military promotions in a single voice vote. Any one senator can hold up the process by raising an objection. Without the voice vote, the Senate would have to confirm all the nominees one by one — an option other senators have said would eat up months of the upper chamber’s floor time.
“Let me point out that Gen. Whiting and Gen. Guillot [have] said ‘if confirmed’ a number of times in their testimony” Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., said after Tuberville questioned the nominees. “The roles that [they] are going into are so critical for our national defense. But the ‘if confirmed’ is certainly in question because of Sen. Tuberville’s holds on these promotions.”
Brown is nominated to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Smith is nominated to be the commandant of the Marine Corps. Other top military nominations that are being impacted by Tuberville’s block include Adm. Lisa Franchetti as chief of naval operations, Gen. Randy George as Army chief of staff and Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh as director of the National Security Agency. On Wednesday, Gen. David Allvin joined the list when Biden nominated him to succeed Brown as Air Force chief of staff.
The hearing Wednesday ended with some tense moments when Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., railed against recent diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, initiatives in the military. Recently, congressional Republicans have been vocal in condemning these policies and programs, which have been embraced by top military leaders including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
“I support a ready, lethal force that draws from the best talent all across America,” Whiting said.
“That’s not what DEI is,” Schmitt shot back. “DEI is rooted in cultural Marxism. So, I’m asking you, do you support DEI initiatives in the military?”
“I want to find the best people anywhere in this country … who can support the defense of this nation,” Whiting concluded.
If confirmed, Guillot will succeed Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck as leader of Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD. Previously, Guillot commanded the Ninth Air Force, the 55th Wing and the 552nd Air Control Wing. Whiting, if confirmed, would succeed Army Gen. James Dickinson as leader of Space Command. Previously, Whiting commanded the 14th Air Force, 21st Space Wing and Combined Force Space Component Command.