- Mark Esper, President Donald Trump’s second permanent defence secretary, has his resignation letter ready to go, three defence officials told NBC News on Thursday.
- Esper is also reportedly helping Congress prepare legislation to change the names of military installations that honour Confederate leaders.
- An effort to rename the military bases would likely anger President Donald Trump, who has rejected such a move.
- For months, there have been reports that Trump has soured on his defence secretary and has privately discussed firing him. There have also been reports that Esper has considered resigning.
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Mark Esper, the second permanent defence secretary under President Donald Trump, has his resignation letter ready to go,NBC reported Thursday, citing three current defence officials.
Esper is also reportedly helping Congress prepare legislation to change the names of military installations that honour Confederate leaders. Esper intends to help lawmakers insert the measure into the National Defence Authorization Act, the annual law that funds the Defence Department, according to the report.
The defence secretary has drafted a written framework for the process, which may also rename ships and streets on military bases, and given it to lawmakers, NBC reported, adding that the framework suggests prohibiting naming bases after a felon or someone who betrayed the country and instead establishing criteria for such names.
Senior US military leaders in recent months have floated the idea of renaming several military bases, such as Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which is named for Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, and Ft. Lee in Prince George County, Virginia, which is named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
An effort to rename the military bases would be at odds with Trump, who would have final approval authority on the annual defence bill. Trump has publicly decried the campaign to change the base names, which has picked up steam in Congress as the country grapples with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,” Trump tweeted in June. “The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars.”
Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman downplayed the report, telling NBC News that Esper “continues to serve the nation as the secretary of defence at the pleasure of the president and is at the Pentagon today working on the irreversible implementation of the National Defence Strategy.”
“The speculation about potential resignations of Cabinet officials is a well-worn, D.C.-insider, post-election parlor game,” Hoffman said in a statement.
The NBC story is inaccurate and misleading in many ways. To be clear, Secretary of Defense Esper has no plans to resign, nor has he been asked to submit a letter of resignation.
— Jonathan Hoffman (@ChiefPentSpox45) November 5, 2020
Cabinet-level leaders have been known to prepare resignation letters around elections, but, as NBC notes, Esper’s situation is a little different because Trump has reportedly considered pushing him out.
There has been talk of the president firing his defence secretary since June, when Esper publicly broke with Trump on whether active-duty military should be deployed to US cities to quell unrest after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in police custody in late May.
Trump was furious with Esper, who previously frustrated the administration by going off-message, according to multiple reports. Trump wanted to fire Esper but was ultimately talked out of it,The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.
In August, Bloomberg News reported that Trump had discussed firing Esper after the presidential election. The report also said that Esper had privately expressed an interest in stepping down.
A few days after the Bloomberg report came out, Trump was asked if he has ever considered firing Esper. He replied: “I consider firing everybody.”
In early September, NBC News reported that White House officials had been in discussion with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie about stepping in as the acting defence secretary should Trump fire Esper.
By October, more reports emerged suggesting that Esper’s days at the Pentagon were coming to an end, first with Axios reporting that Esper would be fired if Trump won reelection and then with a The New York Times report that Esper “is widely seen as a dead man walking” in the Pentagon.
Esper became secretary of defence in summer 2019. The job was held by acting officials for the previous seven months, after the abrupt departure of former Secretary of Defence James Mattis, who resigned in December 2018 over disagreements with Trump about the US role in Syria, from which Trump wanted to withdraw troops, and about the importance of partnerships in general.