Joe Biden’s top spokesperson apologised for her Space Force jibe as the president confirmed his administration remains firmly behind it.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki had come under fire from Republicans who claimed she had been dismissive of the newest branch of the armed forces earlier this week.
“I did send a tweet last night, maybe they’re not on Twitter, that said we invite the members of Space Force here to give an update to you on all the important work they are doing and we certainly look forward to seeing continued updates from their team,” she said during her daily briefing on Wednesday.
We look forward to the continuing work of Space Force and invite the members of the team to come visit us in the briefing room anytime to share an update on their important work.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) February 3, 2021
“They absolutely have the full support of the Biden administration and we are not revisiting the decision to establish the Space Force.
“The desire for the Department of Defense to focus greater attention and resources on the growing security challenges in space has long been a bipartisan issue, informed by numerous independent commissions and studies conducted across multiple administrations, and thousands of men and women proudly serve in the Space Force.”
Earlier in the week she had responded to a question on its future by saying: “Wow, Space Force. It’s the plane of today,” referring to questions about the president’s opinion on the colour of Air Force One.
”It is an interesting question. I’m happy to check with our Space Force point of contact. I’m not sure who that is. I will find out and see if we have any update on that,” she said.
Her change in tone on Wednesday came shortly after General John Raymond, the chief of space operations, spoke out in support of the service and its guardians.
”I’m very proud of the guardians in the Space Force,” he said.
”I see the value of this force each and every day, and I’m happy to talk to anybody about the great work that they’re doing. I would welcome the opportunity.”
But the general said that he had yet to speak personally with the president about space policy.
Space Force, which was only set up in December 2019, was a big hit with Mr Trump, who touted it throughout his re-election campaign as a major achievement.
But it has been the subject of mockery by late-night talk show hosts, as has its adoption of the term “guardians” for its service members.
And it has been unclear since his election victory what stance Mr Biden would take to it.
The future of space exploration was not discussed in either presidential debate and Mr Biden did not talk about it on the campaign trail.
And with major domestic challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic it had not been brought up until earlier this week.
Ms Psaki insisted that the White House would not review the decision to create the sixth branch of the armed forces, and Mr Biden could not cancel it even if he wanted to.
“As you know it was established by Congress and any other steps would have to be taken by Congress and not the Administration,” she added.
Space Force, which has a 2021 budget of $15.4bn, enjoys bipartisan support and there is increasing wariness about China and Russia developing technology to target US satellites in space.
“Russia and China are building capabilities to challenge us in space because if they can challenge us in space, they understand as dependent as we are in space capabilities that they can challenge us as a nation,” said the Air Force’s General John Hyten during an event with the National Security Space Association.
If Space Force is here to stay, the president could look into NASA’s Artemis lunar programme, which aims to put the first woman on the moon by 20204, and was championed by Mr Trump.
The 2024 date was picked to coincide with the final year of a potential second term in office for Mr Trump and was pushed by his NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Mr Bridenstine resigned the day after Mr Biden’s election victory and was replaced by NASA veteran Steve Jurczyk as acting administrator.
When asked about Mr Biden’s stance on Artemis, Ms Psaki said that while personally interested in space exploration she had not discussed it and would try to find out more information from their space team.
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