Bipartisan opposition builds to Biden’s plan for military space personnel

A bipartisan group of 85 House and Senate members is lining up against the Biden administration’s push to shift space-focused Air National Guardsmen into the Space Force.

The lawmakers urged leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees in a letter Monday to reject the Pentagon push when their panels consider annual defense policy legislation in the coming weeks.

The group argued the move undercuts state governors’ authority and the Guard’s dual national security and state domestic response missions. They said it also “undermines the choice made” by Guard members to serve part-time in their states.

“To be clear: when individuals sign up for the National Guard, they are serving their country and their community,” the lawmakers wrote. “Congress shouldn’t abandon this model.”

The letter was spearheaded by Reps. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), and Colorado Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper. It’s the largest show of force so far by lawmakers opposed to the Pentagon’s space legislative proposal ahead of debate on the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Opposition to the space personnel moves, led by fellow Democrats, is yet another complication for President Joe Biden, who is seeking to smooth over divisions in his party headed into an election.

The bicameral, bipartisan Hill resistance comes as all 50 governors came out against the Air Force plan this past week. Opposition from governor’s mansions puts pressure on congressional delegations to act to kill the proposal.

Governors from 48 states and five U.S. territories penned a bipartisan letter opposing the plan last week. The two governors who didn’t sign on, Republicans Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas, have since sent their own letters opposing the administration’s aims.

The Pentagon in March sent lawmakers a legislative proposal that would permit the Air Force to transfer space units from the Air National Guard to the Space Force.

Though meant to bring those part-time personnel into the new space service, the plan has drawn broad opposition from space and non-space states alike that are concerned about protecting their Guard assets. Governors argue doing so would undermine their authority to command their Guard forces.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, meanwhile, has downplayed the implications of the proposal, arguing it was meant to allow the 5-year-old Space Force to flexibly manage its full- and part-time personnel without incurring extra cost or creating new bureaucracy.

While lawmakers such as Crow are pushing to create a separate Space National Guard to house those weekend warriors, the letter didn’t offer a specific alternative to the Space Force shift. They’re only urging the four Armed Services leaders to keep the proposal out of the NDAA.

“We recognize the Air Force is evolving to address future threats, but there are other options available to the Air Force to accomplish this evolution that don’t undo an important foundation of our state National Guard system established by Congress,” they said.