Vice President Mike Pence made a Veterans Day stop at Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, as he embarks on a diplomatic trip to Asia.
Air Force Lt. Col. John Ross, a spokesman for JBER’s 673d Air Base Wing, said that Pence was slated to give a speech while his plane was being refueled, without leaving the base.
“He’s going to visit with service members here so it’ll be soldiers and airmen; he’ll be shaking hands,” Ross said. “JBER has a whole bunch of units on it, so we’ve tried to spread out the invitations.”
Pence arrived shortly before 4 p.m. Sunday after his plane was delayed by weather. In brief remarks before service members at JBER, he acknowledged the importance of Sunday — the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, marked by ceremonies in France attended by President Trump.
“I truly want to tell you I think Donald Trump is the best friend veterans ever had,” Trump said.
Pence also pledged, with the support of Alaska’s Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski, who was present Sunday, and Dan Sullivan — to “give America’s best America’s best” in the field of health care.
“We are once again giving our veterans across this country access to the best health care in the United States of America,” Pence said. “Veterans Choice is now a reality.”
According to an itinerary released by the White House, Pence’s week-long trip will take him to Japan, Singapore, Australia and Papua New Guinea for a variety of face-to-face meetings. Pence, accompanied by National Security Advisor John Bolton, will “represent [President Trump] at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit in Singapore as well as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Papua New Guinea.”
In a news conference after his speech, Pence said his trip was focused on bolstering America’s support for its Asian allies, which face potential opposition from China amid its emergence as a regional superpower.
“My message will be very simple, which is that the commitment of the United States of America to the Pacific has never been stronger,” Pence said. “We’re going to stand with our long and firm allies and ensure a peaceful and secure Indo-Pacific.”
Pence responded to a question about pressure from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has called for the U.S. and North Korea to formally end the Korean War before North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, with a statement of solidarity.
“I think President Trump and I remain convinced that President Moon and [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe] and the U.S. are going to work together to ensure the complete and verifiable de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Pence said. “We’ll continue to stand in solidarity with those nations.”
Asked about the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as China assembles a competing 16-nation trading bloc, Pence pointed to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico as a sign of things to come.
“We’re the most powerful economy in the world and we’re committed to free trade,” Pence said. “We’re committed to building on our trading relationships across this region.”
Murkowski thanked Pence for the personal touch he brought to his visit, spending about an hour meeting with veterans after his speech.
“It is pretty wonderful, when he’s taking such a long trip, to take the time to visit with the veterans and their spouses; this was some pretty heart-warming stuff,” Murkowski said. “I have to apologize to him for the weather, but at this time in November it’s not usually this sloppy.”
Asked about the Trump administration’s position on the Pacific, Murkowski emphasized the importance of Alaska’s strategic location to the U.S.
“I think the vice president used the words ‘the vanguard’ here in the Pacific and that’s what we did here, that’s what these men and women do every day: not just protecting us here in Alaska, but the nation,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski also backed her fellow Alaska senator, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, who has asked about expanding the Marine Corps’ forces in Alaska.
“Sen. Sullivan has really been leaning on that; I have been in consultation with our leaders at the Defense Department,” Murkowski said. “We recognize the imperative we have in Alaska, the multiple missions; I tend to believe with Sen. Sullivan that the Marines, the presence here, would only enhance our mission.”
The vice president also spoke at JBER in March while he was en route to South Korea with the U.S. delegation for the Winter Olympics, saying that “missile defense begins here in Alaska.”