Dissenting Voice: Defense Secretary Mark Esper Opposes Use of Insurrection Act
“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. We are not in one of those situations now.”
US President Donald Trump wants to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to mobilize the military against protesters, but Pentagon officials have vocally opposed the idea. Chief among them is Defense Secretary Mark Esper. At a Wednesday press conference, Esper told reporters “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” Phil Seward reported for Reuters on Wednesday.
“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. We are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said.
Esper also apologized for describing demonstration zones as “battlespaces,” saying he regretted the word choice. The word, he said, is “something we use day in and day out … it’s part of our military lexicon the I grew up with … it’s not a phrase focused on people,” according to CNN.
The secretary is the first cabinet official to speak out against the president’s idea to deploy the military to “quickly solve the problem for” governors and “dominate the streets,” as POLITICO reported.
Notably, Esper was a member of the delegation that joined Trump fro a photo-op on Monday in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church next to the White House. However, Esper claimed he was not informed beforehand that the event was designed to be a photo-op.
White House insiders told CNN that Esper’s press conference did not sit well with the president, with three of them describing the reactions of Trump and other advisers as “not happy.”
Discontent in Pentagon
The administration was reportedly unaware of the nature of Esper’s remarks before the press conference. Esper’s briefing is the first public break between the Defense Department and Oval Office. Rumors circulated this week that Pentagon officials are hesitant to follow Trump’s plan to summon the military.
“There is an intense desire for local law enforcement to be in charge,” one defense official told CNN.
Esper phoned governors to ask them to supply National Guard troops to provide security in the capital. The governors of Virgina, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York all declined to provide Guards. Some cited a need for keeping security forces in their states in the event they are needed and others, like Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, said he would not support sending Guards who would be taking orders from Attorney General William Barr instead of the Washington, D.C., mayor.
The Next to Leave?
The public breaking of the ranks could expedite Esper’s ouster from the administration, some aides told CNN. Trump has reportedly been displeased with Esper in recent weeks, CNN reported, and White House sources said “I think this is the end for him.”
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien is also behind the outrage at Esper, sources claimed. In particular, Trump and O’Brien are not convinced Esper is onboard with Trump’s military ambitions.
O’Brien has been crucial to swaying the president, speaking to him in private about Esper’s remarks, often pointing out how the secretary offers half-hearted defenses of the administration. O’Brien even printed out Esper’s remarks on a topic and compared them with his own.
Some administration officials said O’Brien is interested in a new post as either secretary of state or secretary of defense. The former position is filled by Mike Pompeo who has repeatedly insisted he is happy in his post, even refusing calls by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R–Ky., to run for senator. Therefore, Esper’s seat might be the next vacancy O’Brien can jump into.
Congress Has Questions for Esper
Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been summoned to testify before the House Armed Services Committee by Rep. Adam Smith, D–Wash., to “explain this domestic engagement to the American people.”
“I have serious concerns about using military forces to respond to protestors. The role of the US military in domestic US law enforcement is limited by law. It must not be used in violation of those limits and I see little evidence that President Trump understands this fundamental premise,” Smith said.
An open hearing on the matter is scheduled for next week, CNN reported.