Colorado Springs mayor says Trump told him he was holding Space Command decision until after the election

Space Force National Guard
Noah Berger/AP Photo
An Air Force specialist salutes in a U.S. Space Force uniform during a ceremony for U.S. Air Force airmen transitioning to U.S. Space Force guardian designations Feb. 12, 2021, at Travis Air Force Base in California. About 1,000 Air National Guard troops who are assigned to space missions are mired in an identity crisis. According to commanders, the troops’ units are torn between the Air Force, where they’ve historically been assigned, and the military’s shiny new Space Force, where they now work.

Outgoing Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers wrote to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall earlier this month to air his concern that former President Donald Trump’s decision to move Space Command Headquarters to Alabama was a political one.

This comes as the Air Force continues its review of that choice and is expected to make a final basing decision soon for Space Command Headquarters, which has been located in  Colorado both in its first iteration and since its reestablishment in 2019.

“This wasn’t a merit-based decision on President Trump’s part,” Suthers told CPR News.

Suthers said he decided to write the letter after talking with Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper. 

“Senator Hickenlooper suggested that it may be important for me to weigh in and relate these conversations because they do clearly show that it was [Trump’s] perspective, this was gonna be a political decision,” Suthers said, “because he made it very clear that he wasn't going to decide until after the election. He wanted to see how the election came out. Nothing could be more indicative of the fact that this was gonna be a political decision than that.”

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CPR News, Republican Suthers relates two conversations he had with the former Republican president that led him to conclude Trump’s decision to move the headquarters “was a wholly political one.” 

Suthers offered to provide an affidavit to the Secretary, assuring his account is true, if requested.

In 2019, when Trump was in Colorado Springs to give the commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Suthers said he was surprised to hear the president say he’d make the decision “personally” despite the process the Air Force was pursuing.

In 2020, when Trump visited the city for a campaign rally, Suthers said the meeting “was more extensive and enlightening.”

The mayor greeted Trump on the tarmac when his plane arrived, and took the chance to make his argument to keep the headquarters in Colorado Springs. Suthers said Trump asked him if he was Republican. Suthers confirmed he was and then Trump asked what his chances were of carrying Colorado in November. Suthers replied “uncertain,” which he said seemed to perturb Trump. 

Suthers then recalled that when a high-ranking officer in the Space Force affirmed that the command should stay in the city, Trump said he’d make the decision after the 2020 election. “I want to see how it turns out,” Suthers said Trump said.

Trump, who lost Colorado in 2016, also lost the state again in 2020, this time by double digits. In an Alabama radio interview eight months after leaving office, Trump said he “single-handedly” made the decision to move the command to Huntsville, Alabama, a solidly Republican state that he carried and, as Suthers noted, is home of Congressman Mo Brooks, who spoke at the January 6 rally.

Brooks and five other Republicans in the Alabama House delegation objected to certifying the 2020 presidential results, while Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville voted against certifying the results. In Colorado, only two Republicans, Lauren Boebert and Doug Lamborn, objected to certifying the vote.

The decision that Huntsville was the preferred location for the headquarters was announced a week after the attack on the Capitol and a week before Trump left office.

According to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, the White House seems ready to reverse the division to move the headquarters to Alabama over concerns about disrupting operations.

Ignatius reports that in December 2022, the White House requested “a review of the review” over fears that relocation would delay setting up the command. A final decision had been expected by the end of 2022, but never came. The Air Force said they have no update on when a decision is expected.

Colorado lawmakers have stressed that the command would set up much faster in the state than if it was moved and a new building had to be constructed. And since Roe was overturned, Sen. Michael Bennet argued on the Senate floor that the Pentagon should also consider access to reproductive care in its final decision. Colorado has protected access to abortion, while Alabama has banned abortion except if the life of the mother is at risk.

Kendall told the Air and Space Association earlier this month that “we’re doing some additional analysis; we want to make very sure we get this right.”

Suthers, who admits he’s not an unbiased party when it comes to this decision which could impact his city, is hopeful Biden will reverse course.

“I'm hoping that the Biden administration will say, ‘Look, the people in charge want this to remain in Colorado Springs for national security purposes.’ It's probably also in the interest in the taxpayers in the long run. And that's the appropriate place it ought to be. And this long political football comes to an end here pretty quickly.”

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