An increasingly bitter feud between Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) and the Biden administration deepened this week after the White House nixed former President Trump’s decision to move Space Command from Colorado to Alabama.
The decision enraged the Alabama delegation, including Tuberville, who had already earned the scorn of the White House and Pentagon with an abortion rights-related hold on more than 300 military appointees.
The fight over Space Command now seems likely to solidify Tuberville’s stance on the holds, complicating an already difficult path for Biden nominees. Tuberville quickly accused Biden of playing politics with the decision.
“As soon as Joe Biden took office, he paused movement on that decision and inserted politics into what had been a fair and objective competition — not because the facts had changed, but because the political party of the sitting President had changed,” Tuberville said in a Monday statement.
The White House says the most significant factor the president considered was how a move to Alabama would impact “operational readiness to confront space-enabled threats.”
“Let me put this as plainly as I can. The deciding factor for President Biden in deciding to keep Space Command in Colorado Springs was operational readiness. Pure and simple,” national security adviser John Kirby said in response to questioning over if Biden nixed Alabama because it’s a red state.
“Had nothing to do with Sen. Tuberville’s holds. Had nothing to do with partisan politics,” he said, adding “no” when asked whether Tuberville’s moves influenced the decision.
Republicans aren’t convinced. They believe Tuberville’s holds — which are set to hit the five-month mark next week — have given the administration an opening to keep Space Command headquarters in Colorado and out of a red state with which the administration has not been friendly.
“There are a good amount of people in the business community and center-right who essentially feel whether or not the Space Command decision is related to Coach’s holds, it certainly has given the Biden administration political cover,” one Alabama Republican source told The Hill, adding that it amounts to “an understandable excuse” for why Biden made the call.
“With the entire circus [the holds have] created, it’s totally impossible for discussion to be about the merits. It’s unfortunate,” the source added.
The Biden administration has taken issue with Alabama since it passed a near-total ban on abortion. But it has worked to keep its beef with Tuberville specifically at the forefront.
Officials have mentioned Tuberville nearly every day for weeks, seeking to highlight the high-level positions left vacant. Late last week, Biden accused the former Auburn University football coach of causing “a growing cascade of damage and disruption.”
“Something dangerous is happening,” the president said. “The Republican party used to always support the military. But today, they’re undermining the military.”
The back-and-forth between Biden and Tuberville continued into Tuesday.
In response to a video of Biden calling him out, Tuberville posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, “All of these jobs are being done. My holds are NOT affecting national security.”
“This you?” the White House responded on X on Tuesday, sharing a series of headlines about the issues the holds have caused. One, from The Hill, read “Tuberville’s hold leaves Marines leaderless for first time in 164 years.”
The White House and Pentagon have also refused to back off the Defense Department’s new abortion policy, which provides paid leave and travel reimbursement for abortions. Tuberville argues it violates the Hyde Amendment that prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion.
Kirby recently passionately defended the policy, arguing it’s critical to military readiness.
“What happens if you get assigned to a state like Alabama, which has a pretty restrictive abortion law in place? And you’re concerned about your reproductive care?” he said last month. “What do you do? Do you say no and you get out? Well, some people may decide to do that, and what does that mean? That means we lose talent, important talent.”
The White House has publicly noted Tuberville’s hold is causing a Huntsville, Ala., Army base, Redstone Arsenal, to have to wait for confirmation of a leader to head the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command. The would-be commander was nominated in December.
Biden has also mocked Tuberville for touting $1.4 billion in federal funding Alabama is set to receive for expanded broadband internet access despite voting against it in 2021.
Tuberville wasn’t the only Alabama Republican who slammed the White House’s decision this week. The timing raised eyebrows in GOP circles as it came only days after Congress broke for its monthlong August recess and days after the Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
“There’s a reason why the president waited until the first business day that Congress was out. He knew there were going to be real consequences if he took this action,” the Alabama Republican source said. “This is not something that’s going to end today. The Alabama delegation is very much united behind and not going to drop this.”
The Alabama Republican source noted that Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), and Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), a House Appropriations subcommittee chairman, are highly influential in the looming NDAA and government funding battles and they will play key roles in the coming months.
Rogers said in a Tuesday statement that he will continue to probe whether the administration misled HASC “on their deliberate taxpayer-funded manipulation of the selection process.”
“I will continue to hold the Biden administration accountable for their egregious political meddling in our national security,” he said. “This fight is far from over.”
Brett Samuels contributed.