President Donald Trump reportedly confronted Secretary of Defense Mark Esper Wednesday after Esper said publicly he doesn’t support using active U.S. military troops to respond to civil unrest around the country — remarks that constructed with Trump’s earlier comments and made the president “unhappy.”
Two sources told Bloomberg News that Trump had asked his advisors Wednesday if they thought Esper could still be effective in his position heading the Department of Defense.
CNN also reported Wednesday, based on three unnamed White House sources, that Trump and other top administration officials, including national security adviser Robert O’Brien, were “not happy” with Esper after his Wednesday Pentagon statements.
Several Republican Senators have spoken out in defense of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, responding to rumors his job is on the line after appearing to diverge with President Donald Trump about how the military might respond to rioting in cities across the country.
Another Republican source said there has been tension for months between Trump and Esper and said that since his confirmation, Esper has largely had to follow Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s lead on most issues.
“He’s doing a good job,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Politico. Graham said he had spoken with Trump and did not think Esper will lose his job.
“There’s no reason to let him go. That’s all just a bunch of chatter,” Graham said. “I have confidence in Secretary Esper.”
“He should be allowed to express his opinion and his advice should be heeded,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) said, concurring with Graham. “And I hope he would stay on. I like him. We’ve got enough vacancies.”
On Wednesday, Esper announced he did not see reason at the present time to call in active U.S. military troops to take on domestic civil unrest missions after both protesting and rioting in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody last week. Active military troops have been placed on standby, but have not been called in to civil unrest.
During a Wednesday White House press conference, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked how Trump felt about Esper’s earlier press statement.
“With regard to whether the president has confidence I would say if he loses confidence in Secretary Esper I’m sure you will all be the first to know,” McEnany said. “As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper and should the President lose faith we will all learn about that in the future.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), said he hopes “that having a different point of view is not a disqualification for being in this administration.”
Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK), by contrast, told Politico he did not see much of a divide between Trump and Esper, in terms of the use of military forces.
“Both of them have the same position, that position is the last resort is troops,” Inhofe said.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) agreed with Esper’s Wednesday assessment that the U.S. should avoid calling in troops.
“These tasks ought to be relegated as much as possible to the state and local authorities, law enforcement, police,” Thune said. “I know there are instances in the past where they had to call up active-duty personnel. But I think the goal is always to de-escalate, not escalate. In my view that’s the right call.”
On Wednesday, 200 active troops were reportedly being drawn down from the National Capital Region in an apparent move to take them away from the potential civil unrest mission. Hours later, Esper reversed that decision, stopping the drawdown and putting those active troops back on standby.