'Childish' and 'reckless': Lawmakers sound the alarm after Trump fires his defense secretary weeks before a presidential transition

  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper was "terminated" from his position, bringing lawmakers who serve on the Armed Services Committees and those with prior military service sound the alarm on Capitol Hill.
  • Lawmakers who were previously critical of Esper's policies were taken aback.
  • Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Esper's firing before the projected presidential transition in January would contribute to "destabilizing the Pentagon."
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Defense Secretary Mark Esper was "terminated" from his position on Monday afternoon, prompting lawmakers who serve on the Armed Services Committees and those with prior military service to sound the alarm.

Lawmakers serving on Capitol Hill, many of whom previously voiced their disagreements with Esper's past performance, were taken aback by the defense secretary's ouster. Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Esper's firing ahead of the projected presidential transition in January would contribute to "destabilizing the Pentagon."

"In the national security community, it is well known that periods of presidential transition leave our country exposed to unique threats," Smith said in a statement. "Until President-Elect Biden is sworn into office next January, it is imperative that the Pentagon remain under stable, experienced leadership."

"Dismissing politically appointed national security leaders during a transition is a destabilizing move that will only embolden our adversaries and put our country at greater risk," Smith added. "President Trump's decision to fire Secretary Esper out of spite is not just childish, it's also reckless. It has long been clear that President Trump cares about loyalty above all else, often at the expense of competence, and during a period of presidential transition competence in government is of the utmost importance."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was blunt with her remarks in a brief statement.

"The abrupt firing of Secretary Esper is disturbing evidence that President Trump is intent on using his final days in office to sow chaos in our American Democracy and around the world," Pelosi said in a statement.

Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a Democrat and former Marine Corps infantry officer, said he had "no doubt" that Esper was ousted "for being critical of President Trump's policies."

"We are now going through a political transition period in our country where the civilian leadership will insulate the military's leaders from having to weigh in on partisan issues which could irreparably erode the American people's trust in our Armed Forces," Moulton said in a statement.

"I hope that President Trump does nothing in the next 11 weeks that puts Gen. Milley and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a position where they will need to make a partisan decision on a civilian, political matter," Moulton added, referring to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army Gen. Mark Milley. "I hope that my Republican colleagues in Congress, especially those who have served in uniform as I have, will take their duty to provide a check on the executive branch seriously and recommit themselves to civilian leadership of our military."

The head of the Senate Armed Service Committee, Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, told reporters he wasn't informed in advance of Esper's removal.

Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, applauded Esper's service "under very challenging circumstances."

"He has been an effective advocate for the men and women in uniform and their families," Thornberry said in a statement. "He deserves the gratitude of every American."

Trump, in a tweet, announced Esper had been "terminated" and thanked him for his service on Monday. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had reportedly informed Esper of Trump's decision before his tweet was sent out.

Esper was replaced with National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism, in an acting capacity.

Esper, Trump's fifth defense secretary, was fired after weeks of speculation on his future. His ouster was foreshadowed after he voiced his disagreement with Trump's threat to deploy active-duty troops to curb the riots across the US in the summer; and amid reports that Trump was considering firing him just months before the end of his first term.

Esper had reportedly drafted a resignation letter and was helping Congress prepare legislation to change the names of military installations that honor Confederate leaders — a change that Trump has vehemently opposed.

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