- Secretary of Defence Mark Esper reportedly caught the White House off guard Wednesday when he said that he opposed sending active-duty troops to respond to protests and unrest except in the “most urgent and dire of situations.”
- Esper said Wednesday that the current situation did not merit such a drastic response and that he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act, which allows the president to deploy the military to quell domestic unrest.
- CNN, as well as other outlets, reported that top White House officials are “not happy” with Esper’s remarks.
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Secretary of Defence Mark Esper reportedly caught the White House off guard Wednesday when he said he opposed sending active-duty troops to quell unrest following the death of George Floyd.
Stating that he believes the National Guard is “best suited” for responding to civil disturbances, Esper said that “the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations.”
He said that the US is not in one of those situations and that he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act that would allow the president to send active-duty troops to respond to protests. The National Guard has been called up in many states, but many retired military leaders objected to the use of combat troops to confront protesters.
On Monday, President Donald Trump struck a decidedly different tone, warning that if a city or state fails to act, “then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
Esper’s remarks at the Pentagon Wednesday remarks did not go over well at the White House, CNN reported Wednesday, citing multiple people familiar with the matter who said that Trump and other top White House officials are “not happy” with the secretary.
A US official close to Esper and familiar with White House thinking told CNN that Esper is being “skewered” by some inside the White House for expressing his views, which aides were not given any advanced warning on before Esper spoke Wednesday.
POLITICO, citing an aide and two people close to discussions, also reported that White House officials are unhappy with Esper, who did not directly contradict the president but whose message reportedly made some in the White House uncomfortable.
CNN, as well as Axios, reported that Esper may be on shaky ground at the White House, but people close to the White House told POLITICO that dismissing Esper is not something that is being discussed.
Asked on Wednesday afternoon if the president has lost confidence in Esper, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper.”
Esper was already under fire for telling governors that they should use the National Guard to “dominate the battlespace” in a reference to protesters, and for accompanying Trump on the controversial photo op.
Speaking at the Pentagon Wednesday, Esper also sought to distance himself from Trump’s controversial photo-op at St. John’s Church, which was preceded by the forceful removal of protesters from a park outside the White House, and acknowledge the issues at the heart of protests across the country.
He condemned the death of George Floyd at the hands of police as a “horrible crime, saying that the officers should be “held accountable for his murder.” He called what happened a “tragedy that we have seen repeated too many times.”
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