Interview of Vice President Pence by Robert Costa at the Washington Post's Space Summit "Transformers: Space"
Q: Mr. Vice President, it's a pleasure to have you here at the Washington Post for our space summit. We really appreciate you taking the time —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Bob.
Q: — from the campaign trail, just a few weeks before the midterm elections, to talk about space, to talk about what's next with Space Force.
But before we get into that, I have so many questions on Space Force; I know everyone is so interested in that. I wanted to get your — to talk just for a couple minutes about Jamal Khashoggi, our colleague here at the Washington Post.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, thank you, Bob. Thank you for hosting this forum on a topic of great importance to the life of the nation and to American leadership. But thank you also for giving me the opportunity to address the tragic murder of your colleague Jamal Khashoggi.
The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey was a tragedy for his family, for his loved ones, and for your colleagues here at the Washington Post. It was also an assault on a free and independent press. And our administration is determined to use all means at our disposal to get to the bottom of it.
President Trump has already expressed his concern that there have been lies, there's been deception. He dispatched the Secretary of State to the region early on. And the Director of the CIA is there, in Turkey now, reviewing the evidence. And we're going to follow the facts. We're going to demand that those responsible are held accountable. And once we have all the facts, President Trump will make the decision based upon the values of the American people and our vital national interests.
But allow me to express my personal sympathies to his fiancée, to his loved ones, his family, and to all the colleagues here at the Washington Post who admired and cherished the life and example of Jamal Khashoggi.
Q: What's your response, Mr. Vice President, to President Erdogan's report this morning?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the word from President Erdogan this morning that this brutal murder was premeditated, preplanned days in advance, flies in the face of earlier assertions that have been made by the Saudi regime. And again, it underscores the determination of our administration to find out what happened here. The world is watching. The American people want answers. And we'll demand that those answers are forthcoming.
We'll also — as we go forward, as we demand that those who are responsible are held accountable for this barbaric act, we will also do so in the light and in the context of America's vital national interests in the region. Our relationship with Saudi Arabia goes back some 60 years, since shortly after World War II. It represents an enormously important alliance in the region. And particularly under President Trump's leadership, we've forged renewed ties with Saudi Arabia and with other countries across the Middle East to confront the leading state sponsor of terrorism in Iran.
And so we'll look for ways to hold those accountable that are accountable. We'll make sure that the world has the facts, that the American people have the facts about what happened here. And but we'll also do so in the context of our vital national interests and the important and more than half-century-long relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, which is truly, truly essential to our nation's security and prosperity.
Q: Speaking of holding those accountable, have you seen any intelligence linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to this crime?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't want to speak about any intelligence that I've seen, Bob, as appropriate. I know that when the CIA Director returns, she'll be briefing the President, myself, and our entire team on what the Turks have assembled. But look, I want to assure all of your colleagues here, I want to assure the American people: We're going to get to the bottom of it. This brutal murder of a journalist, of an innocent man, of a dissident, will not go without an American response and, I expect, without an international response.
But we want to find out what happened. And President Trump has made it very clear that the full resources of our intelligence community, working with intelligence officials in Turkey, in our interactions with Saudi Arabia, and also with other countries around the world is going to follow the facts, and then decisions will be made.
Q: Final question on this; then we'll turn to Space Force: Does that mean you're open to sanctions on the Saudi royal family?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, whether or not there are sanctions imposed, whether there's other actions taken will be a decision for the President of the United States. And what President Trump has made it clear, Bob, is that we want to know what happened. We're going to follow the facts. We're going to get all of the evidence. And then the President will make a decision that reflects the values and the interests of the American people.
We'll do what's best for the American people. We'll also make sure that the world knows the truth of what happened. And that's a promise to the family of Jamal Khashoggi, a promise to all of those who worked with him here at the Washington Post, all who cherish his example around the world.
Q: Turning to Space Force, big question is, what will Space Force do?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first let me commend the Washington Post for bringing attention unto this issue. Along the campaign trail in 2016, shortly after I was added to the ticket, the President and I had a conversation about his interests in really reviving American leadership in space, and particularly when it came to human space exploration.
He told me then that he wanted to relaunch what's known as the National Space Council, which had lain dormant for some 25 years. And he asked if I'd be interested in chairing it, as previous vice presidents had done in American history. To be honest with you, Bob, I jumped at the chance. When I was elected to the Congress, when we first met, the one committee that I requested to be a part of was the NASA Subcommittee of the Science Committee because I have been a space enthusiast all my life. And it turns out the President of the United States shares that same passion.
And we both shared a concern that while America continues to be dominant in space, in terms of technology, in terms of our accomplishments, that we were losing momentum in recent years; that America had essentially been consigned to low-Earth orbit. We'd actually off-lined our own platforms when we grounded the shuttle program.
Many Americans didn't even realize at the time that we've had to pay the Russians to fly American astronauts into space now for a number of years. Some $80 million a seat on Russian spacecraft.
But the President saw all of that as intolerable. And not just the fact that we'd become focused on low-Earth orbit but that we'd really lost a vision for leading mankind into the outer reaches of space. In his inaugural address, he spoke about that. He spoke about American leadership in the vast expanse of space. And shortly after the advent of the administration, we relaunched the National Space Council.
And while its initial work focused on reviving NASA, bringing about the kind of changes through a series of presidential policy directives that have cleared away regulatory barriers to space launch by private industry, and also made a recommitment to NASA's civilian mission.
Along the way, it became very clear to us that it's absolutely essential that America remained as dominant in space, from a national security perspective, as we are on the Earth. And that's where the President conceived of the idea of a Space Force and tasked the National Space Council to begin to examine how that might best be formatted.
It would be in June of this year, at the last meeting of the National Space Council, that the President directed the Pentagon to formulate a plan. They have done so, submitted that plan in August, on the very day after I addressed the Pentagon.
Today, later at the War College, we'll be laying out a series of recommended policy directives for the President to put into effect what will ultimately result in the launch of a sixth branch of the our armed forces: the United States Space Force. And the purpose of the Space Force will be to secure our vital national interests in space.
Q: Does that mean adding weapons to space?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what it means, Bob, is that we're going to protect American interests in space. I mean, to understand American defense today is to understand the interrelationship between our satellite technology and our aircraft, our ships at sea, submarines under the sea. Our warfighters on the ground regularly rely on information that is obtained, images that are captured, by satellite technology.
And so the first order of business is ensuring that the infrastructure of our satellite technology is protected. And the reality is, the more we look at our competitors in space — chiefly among them are China and Russia — we see the deployment of technologies by both of those countries — anti-satellite technologies.
China, not long ago, actually tested a missile that took out one of their own satellites. We're seeing the deployment of additional, new anti-satellite technology that's placed into orbit, literally satellites that are able to move in proximity to existing satellites. All of this informs the fact that we have to have the capacity to protect our existing infrastructure in space.
But also, what the President's vision is, is that we stand up a Space Force that very much — similar to the way that the Air Force was launched after World War II — will evolve into ensuring that America remains as dominant in outer space militarily as we are here on Earth. And that will be the project of the Space Force going forward. And there are a number of steps that will be launched in the very short term but that will ultimately lead to the launch of a Department of the United States Space Force in the next national Defense Authorization Act.
Q: What about the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which governs international space law? It bans weapons of mass destruction in space.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It does.
Q: President Trump, as we know, likes to cut his own deals. Is this administration thinking about renegotiating that treaty?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well — well, first and foremost, that treaty — which I think we signed in 1967 — does ban weapons of mass destruction in outer space but it doesn't ban military activity. It actually is a — it gives nations a fair amount of flexibility in operating for their security interests in outer space. And at this time, we don't see any need to amend the treaty.
But, you know, as time goes forward, the hope that we could continue to see outer space as a domain where peace will reign, it will require military presence. But we'll continue to aspire to President Kennedy's vision of a "sea of peace" as opposed to a terrifying domain of war.
Q: On that, do you think that nuclear weapons should be banned from space?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, they are now.
Q: Should they always be banned from space?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I think that what we need to do is make sure that we provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of America. And that's the President's determination here.
I think it's in the interest of every nation to continue to ban the use of nuclear weapons in space. But what we want to do is continue to advance the principle that peace comes through strength. And we truly do believe the best pathway toward advancing human exploration in space — which the President has already announced we're going back to the moon and then, after that, to Mars — the way we develop more commercial enterprise in space, and we see the incredible innovation.
I visited the Mojave Desert and I saw a number of companies that are operating, even as we speak, to be able to carry commercial enterprises, space tourism, space mining —
Q: What's our deadline to go back to the moon?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we're working through that right now. And Jim Bridenstine, being a part of this program today, I'm sure spoke to that with great specificity. But, you know, I serve with a President that wants everything yesterday. And I can assure you that our determination is to see Americans back on the moon in the very near future, but shortly thereafter on our way to Mars.
And not in an event horizon of 10, and 20, and 30 years, which is the way NASA spoke for much of the last two decades, but also an event horizon that says we're going to get there — we're going to get there soon, we're going to get there quickly.
And you know, once Americans set their mind to something there's — we've already demonstrated throughout our history there's nothing we can't accomplish.
Q: Do you worry at all about an arms race? You mentioned Russia and China with Space Force.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, look, let's be very clear: There's this whole talk about militarizing space, and what the American people deserve to know is that from the time Sputnik was launched into orbit, we've militarized space. That, in a very real sense, space is a warfighting domain. And whether it's China, Russia, other nations in the world, there are security investments being made, not just satellite technology, but also that anti-satellite technology that I talked about.
And we really do believe that it's absolutely essential that we meet that moment with American strength, that we meet that moment with American leadership, and that we also recognize that, in 2015, China essentially stood up its own space force. Russia, in the very same year, assigned a part of its aerospace division to a space force.
And so what President Trump has initiated here, in a very real sense — while America continues to lead in technology and innovation, and in military strength — in terms of organizational structure, this is what our competitors are already doing. And the President is determined to make sure that America leads in space, as well, from a military standpoint.
Q: Who goes to the moon or to Mars in the — for the United States moving forward? Is it people from NASA astronauts, or is it people like your son, a naval aviator who may want to go to space?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what I can say is that — and thanks for mentioning my son.
Q: Michael Pence, First Lieutenant?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: First Lieutenant. Just got his wings as a Marine naval aviator two weeks ago. And we couldn't be more proud. But thank you. Thank you for that. (Applause.)
Look — look, human space exploration is a civilian operation by NASA; that's what we want it to be. Obviously, as I said at the Pentagon back in August, a great number of our astronauts have also, in their prior lives, worn the uniform of the United States. And we're proud of their service then.
But human space exploration is at the very center of what President Trump wants to see us accomplish. Making sure that we have the security in space to advance human space exploration is the underpinning of the Space Force, protecting our interest on Earth, protecting — providing for the common defense here for the American people and our interests around the world, but also creating a domain where we can lead mankind into the outer reaches of space.
But that will be a civilian effort. It will be American boots back on the moon. I look forward to seeing that day, and to seeing Americans land on Mars.
Q: Your tone here, Mr. Vice President, is very measured. You're talking about Space Force as a national project. But President Trump is talking a lot about it on the campaign trail. It's a talking point at his political rallies. Does that risk making Space Force something that has a partisan sheen?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, no. I actually think there's broad bipartisan support for a Space Force. In fact, in the last national defense bill, there was language for what would be called the "Space Corps," that had broad bipartisan support. This is actually an issue, Bob, that Republicans and Democrats have spoken about for some time. But President Trump has essentially seized on it.
And as he does with so many other issues, he's been able to communicate that in a way that's captured the imagination of the American people. And I can tell you, as I've traveled around to campaign during these midterm elections as well, there's a lot of enthusiasm for Space Force.
And I actually don't think it's so much partisan as it's just — I think there's many Americans, you know, my age and older, who remember those glory days of the 1960s. I remember huddled around a little black and white television in our basement watching Neil Armstrong step onto the moon — "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." And the pride that I felt as an American.
And when I became a member of Congress, I actually attended three different shuttle launches. And it was the most incredible thing I ever witnessed in my life to see so much power contained, lifting those brave Americans into space.
But I think millions of Americans, whatever their politics, would agree that somewhere along the way we lost our vision and our passion for leadership in space. And the President's call for a renewal of our commitment to human space exploration, a return to the moon, reaching out at Mars, the establishment of a Space Force, I think that taps into that American aspiration that we are in a very real sense, a nation of pioneers. We've always, throughout our history been pushing the outer envelope. We've been pushing into the undiscovered country. I think the American people are excited to see us do that again.
Q: Mr. Vice President, though, you're selling it hard.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am.
Q: But does Congress agree with you? Congress has to authorize this.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q: Do we expect the Trump administration to making — getting an authorization vote on Space Force a priority by the end of 2019?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The short answer to that is yes. The President has made it very clear in the next National Defense Authorization Act that he wants language that authorizes the establishment of the United States Space Force and a department as a sixth branch of the service.
But we're taking steps even before that. As we'll announce today when I go over to the War College, the National Space Council is making recommendations to the President to essentially begin with establishing a unified Space Command, much in the way that we established a special forces command.
We all remember the Iran hostage crisis during the Carter administration, and the disaster in the desert that took place. Shortly after that was when the United States made the decision to establish a unified special forces command. So now, special forces in all different branches of the service operate under a unified command so that when special forces are deployed, it's fully coordinated.
And what the President has envisioned here is let's begin by bringing everyone under a unified command. Let's stand up a space development agency so we can establish the authorities necessary, the chain of command; promote the technologies.
I mean, we roughly have about 60,000 people in all the different branches of the service and our intelligence community who work in and around space security today. We haven't been neglectful of this; we just haven't brought it all together in one place. And that's what the President purposes to do with the United States Space Force and the department that will establish it.
But going to the Congress, asking for the Congress for that authorizing legislation is something the President has made it clear is a priority. And we'll be working when we reelect these Republican majorities on Capitol Hill, we'll be reelecting — working with reelected Republican majorities to do just that.
Q: One final thing on the Space Force, and then I want to talk for a minute about the midterms. When you think about — you mentioned your time in the U.S. House; you were a firebrand conservative back then in the House challenging leadership. I covered that. But they care about spending billions of dollars, and an Air Force memo shows that Space Force may need $3 billion in its first year, $13 billion in its first five years.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q: You know, that's a hard sell. One, do you agree with — is that really the numbers we're expecting for Space Force? That Air Force memo from a couple months ago. And, two, will House conservatives, and other conservatives in Congress, really want to sign on to something that's that big a spending project?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we think the numbers — I know that the Secretary of the Air Force has produced some of those numbers — and great, great respect for Secretary Wilson. But I would just ask my old colleagues in the Congress: What price freedom? What is the price tag that you place on the security of the United States of America?
And two, I think the reason why the American people are so enthusiastic about Space Force is because they understand that for us to continue to provide for the common defense, to protect America's interest, to stand for freedom in the world, that we have to continue to extend American strength into the outer reaches of space.
Now, the good news is an awful lot of what of we're going to do is going to be consolidating. As I mentioned, there's roughly 60,000 people today that work in space security in a variety of different agencies. And so this will not be — it will not, in the first instance, look like other branches of the service that were stood up. It will be a consolidation, we believe, and from there future congresses and future administrations can grow and expand and nurture the Department of the Space Force as they see fit.
Q: We'll be following the National Space Council closely. Just to finish on the midterms — you're going to be heading out on the campaign trail soon.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. I am.
Q: Immigration has become a major issue. The President keeps talking about this migrant caravan, and he references Middle Easterners that are part of this caravan without evidence. Why is that? And where is the evidence, if any?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern decent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The truth is — well, let me — let me — there's statistics on this. I mean, in the last fiscal year, we apprehended more than 10 terrorists, or suspected terrorists, per day, at our southern border, from countries that are referred to in the lexicon as "other than Mexico." That means from the Middle East region.
I mean, the idea that they would not be in this large throng that what the President of Honduras told me was organized by leftist groups in Honduras, financed by Venezuela, and sent north to challenge our sovereignty, and challenge our border. And now it's grown.
The President had me reach out to President Hernández in Honduras, to President Morales in Guatemala. We've been working very closely with Mexico. We're going to do everything in our power to prevent this caravan from coming north and violating our border.
But, ultimately, it is an issue in this election, because what human traffickers are doing, what criminal gang members are doing in this instance and, frankly, in literally every day of the week — where they take cash to bring people up the peninsula in the hopes of them either making a claim for asylum, or simply crossing our border illegally to be apprehended — is they're taking advantage of not only our porous border, but loopholes in our laws — our catch-and-release program — are all used and exploited by human traffickers who have no regard for human life.
You know, when I spoke to the President of Guatemala he told me how at that point they were already beginning to bus some people back to Honduras — elderly, vulnerable children who had simply been left by the side of the road by the organizers of this caravan.
I mean, the truth of the matter is, nearly 42 — far beyond this caravan — nearly 40 percent of young girls that make their way into our country at the hands of human traffickers are sexually abused. We determined they've been sexually abused on their way north. This is a — it is unconscionable for us to continue to allow this to occur. And we — but the way we can end it, as the President has made clear, is to have a Congress that is willing to not only fund a wall, secure our border, but to close the loopholes that human traffickers and violent gang members use to entice people to make the long and dangerous journey up the peninsula.
We really do believe that we've got a crisis at our southern border, but the only way we're going to deal with that crisis in the long term is by bringing about changes in the law. And the American people have a very clear choice to make. The Democratic Party today supports catch and release. They have opposed the wall, they have opposed efforts for additional internal enforcement and the kind of reforms that, frankly, we've been talking about for more than a decade.
The Republican Party is committed to building a wall, committed to closing the loopholes, ending catch and release, reforming a broken immigration system. And it's very much — very much an issue on the minds of people everywhere I go across the country.
Q: Vice President Pence, we've gone way over time. I appreciate you coming to the Washington Post today to discuss Space Force and other issues. Thank you so much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Bob. Great to be with you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
Mike Pence, Interview of Vice President Pence by Robert Costa at the Washington Post's Space Summit "Transformers: Space" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/336369