John McCain really, really hates the state of Alabama — despises the Yellowhammer State with every fiber of his being.
It’s hard to say where this deep-seeded loathing, this burning desire to inflict carnage on an entire state some 1,600 miles from his Arizona home came from, or when it started.
One might think it began when Alabama voters chose Mike Huckabee over him in the 2008 Republican presidential primary. But that just couldn’t be the case. After all, in 2001 McCain went ballistic over that year’s Interior Appropriations Bill setting aside funds to give Birmingham’s famed Vulcan Statue a facelift.
“My amendment is simple, yet vividly highlights an appropriations process gone mad,” he said at the time. “It would prohibit the use of funds for any purpose relating to the Vulcan Monument in Alabama.”
But McCain’s anti-spending rhetoric is often at odds with his own votes. This is a senator who, for instance, voted in favor of the $850 billion bank bailout in 2008 and co-sponsored the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform package, which by some estimates would have cost trillions of dollars to implement. Just over a month ago he also voted in favor of the massive spending deal former House Speaker John Boehner pushed through on his way out the door.
But in recent years McCain’s attacks on the state of Alabama seem to have become increasingly personal and intense.
McCain is currently engaged in an all-out assault on no fewer than three Alabama-based defense initiatives that, if McCain were to get his way, would not only kill upwards of 5,000 Alabama jobs, but would also endanger U.S. national security.
1. Faux outrage over Russian rockets
America has long relied on Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines to launch its satellites into space. Everyone from NASA to private companies to the U.S. military has utilized the rocket engines to get satellites and other payloads into the Earth’s orbit. Last year, however, McCain championed a move to ban the military’s use of Russian rocket engines as punishment for President Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Ukraine.
Seems reasonable, right? But there is a lot more to the story.
While there is near unanimity on the prudence of ending the United States’ reliance on Russian technology for our various space programs, an immediate ban would have created a years-long window in which the U.S. would not be fully equipped to launch some of the country’s most important defense assets into space.
United Launch Alliance (ULA), which employs roughly 800 Alabamians at its 1.6-million-square-foot facility in Decatur, currently uses the Russian rocket engines to accomplish its work for the U.S. Air Force. ULA is developing its own satellite launch rocket system, but it is years away from completion.
In the mean time, Alabama Senator Richard Shelby inserted a paragraph into the latest spending bill making its way through Congress that would keep the ban from going into effect, therefore protecting the United States’ national security capabilities, along with hundreds — potentially thousands — of Alabama jobs.
McCain came unglued.
“Why would I give a damn what he says,” the Arizona senator exclaimed when asked about Shelby’s change to the rocket ban.
A little further digging reveals that McCain’s stated reason for the ban — to punish Russia — may not have been entirely forthcoming.
McCain’s ban would have only impacted the military, meaning other parts of the U.S. government, along with private companies, could have continued to use the Russian rocket engines unabated.
So why just target the military, if the real goal is to stick it to Russia? Why not ban Russian-made rocket engines altogether?
The fact of the matter is that ULA’s loss in Alabama would have been SpaceX’s gain in California, and a major boon for John McCain’s friend and immigration-reform-backing billionaire Elon Musk.
SpaceX is developing its own rockets and views ULA as its primary competition. The company has also received significant press coverage for being a “private” space alternative to NASA, but the facts show the company has received the overwhelming majority of its funding — billions of dollars — from the United States government.
“Musk and his companies’ investors enjoy most of the financial upside of the government support, while taxpayers shoulder the cost,” explained the LA Times’ Jerry Hirsch.
McCain has been one SpaceX’s most vocal backers, even in the wake of several very public failures of the company’s rocket systems.
“I am confident that this minor setback will in no way impede the future success of SpaceX and its ability to support U.S. national security space missions,” he said earlier this year after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded just two minutes after launch.
Apparently he’s more than happy to throw Alabama and America’s national security under the bus to make that a reality.
2. Anti-Littoral Combat Ship Crusade
The Littoral Combat Ship is a class of vessels used in operations close to shore (the littoral zone). They have been compared to corvettes, built to swiftly move in fights with other vessels, as well as to hunt and destroy enemy submarines and mines.
John McCain hates them, and many of them are being built by 4,000 Alabamians at Austal USA in Mobile, which probably makes him hate them even more.
McCain has decried the LCS program as “shameful” on the Senate floor and has constantly fought for the Pentagon to cut it, in spite of the US Navy insisting they need it.
McCain was pleased this week when the Obama administration’s efforts to slash the military hit the LCS program. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter directed the US Navy to slash its previous order of ships by twelve and reduce its annual orders by tho-thirds.
The Navy’s stated goal for years has been to build up its capacity to 308 ships. There are currently 272 ships in the fleet, and Navy advocates on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon argue that cutting the LCS procurement will make the Navy’s capacity goal impossible to achieve.
Alabama senators have repeatedly fought off McCain’s attempts to cut the LCS before. They’re vowing to do it again next year.
3. Joint High Speed Vessel
On Thursday, as Sen. McCain was in a full-on tirade on the Senate floor, Politico defense reporter Jeremy Herb noted that after the Arizona senator went after the Russian rockets and the LCS, he added yet another Alabama project to his hate list: the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).
— Jeremy Herb (@jeremyherb) December 17, 2015
The JHSV can reach speeds of around 45 knots (52 mph) and maneuver into waters close to the shore (under 15 feet), making it the ideal transport platform for Army and Marine Corp units and their vehicles.
“This is the worst one of all, my friends, and it will not surprise anyone that it is manufactured in Alabama,” McCain said of the JHSV. “There is $225 million for the addition of a joint high-speed vessel, which is, of course, manufactured in Alabama. This will be the 12th ship of this class.”
McCain said he believed there was no need for any more Joint High Speed Vessels, and therefore, the senator who voted to spend trillions on bank bailouts and immigration handouts deemed the expenditure a waste of taxpayer resources.
There’s no way to know Senator McCain’s real reason for despising the state of Alabama, but the only speculation we can really offer is that it may have something to do with the fact that Alabama’s delegation keeps beating him.
The statue is standing tall at Vulcan Park. United Launch Alliance is still providing launch capabilities for national security assets. And the Littoral Combat Ship and Joint High Speed Vessel are still under construction.
It appears Senator McCain is a lot more hateful than he is effective. In some bizarre way, Alabama should be thankful for that.