Esper escalates war of words with Warren, Democratic senators

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDuckworth to block military confirmations until Esper proves Vindman will be promoted House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal House panel votes to ban Confederate flag at Pentagon property MORE has sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee pushing back on criticism from 10 other senators of his response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter largely echoes comments Esper made at a press briefing earlier this week, but sending it steps up the Pentagon’s efforts to push back on criticism of its coronavirus response.

Esper ripped the senators in the letter over what he said were "false and misleading" statements about the response.

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“The Department of Defense (DoD) is committed to providing accurate and timely information in support of Congressional oversight,” Esper wrote in a letter to Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (R-Okla.). “This is why we are providing weekly updates by senior DoD officials to Congress. Recently, however, some members have leveled false or misleading assertions regarding the department's response to the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, despite these briefings. I want to ensure you have the facts.”

“I can confidently state, informed by my service leaders and combatant commanders, the U.S. military is maintaining a high state of readiness and the morale of the force remains strong,” Esper added in the letter dated Thursday.

At issue is a letter sent to Esper from Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden chips away at Trump's fundraising advantage Warnock raises almost M in Georgia Senate race in second quarter The Hill's Morning Report - Trump lays low as approval hits 18-month low MORE (D-Mass.), a Senate Armed Services Committee member, and nine of her Democratic senate colleagues in which they expressed “grave concern” about how the Pentagon has handled the coronavirus crisis.

“Civilian leadership of the department has failed to act sufficiently quickly, and has often prioritized readiness at the expense of the health of servicemembers and their families,” the senators wrote. “This failure has adversely affected morale, and, despite the department’s best intentions, undermined readiness.”

Fellow Armed Services members Sens. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoIf only woke protesters knew how close they were to meaningful police reform Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats Senate Democrats call on Facebook to crack down on white supremacists MORE (D-Hawaii) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) were among the letter’s co-signers, as were fellow former Democratic presidential contenders Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Warnock raises almost M in Georgia Senate race in second quarter Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (D-Calif.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Stagwell President Mark Penn says Trump is losing on fighting the virus; Fauci says U.S. 'going in the wrong direction' in fight against virus Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats MORE (D-Minn.).

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The eight-page letter cited several examples, including the coronavirus outbreak aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier and Esper pushing decisions on implementing social distancing and other guidance to local commanders.

It also asked for answers to about a dozen questions by this coming Monday. Asked whether the Pentagon will be responding to the senators who wrote the letter, a spokeswoman told The Hill that Esper’s letter to Inhofe “is the secretary’s response.”

The spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a follow up question on whether Esper’s letter was also sent to the 10 senators or whether Esper will not be answering their questions.

Warren’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Esper’s letter.

As of Friday, 5,171 service members have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 114 who have been hospitalized, 1,978 who have recovered and two who have died.

In his letter to Inhofe, Esper maintained the Pentagon has been “ahead of need at every step,” arguing officials “have met or exceeded every request for assistance we have received.”

“That said, on behalf of America's 2.9 million service members and DoD civilians, I am disappointed that some, especially committee members, would argue that the Defense Department has demonstrated a ‘failure to adequately respond to the ongoing coronavirus disease,’ ” Esper wrote. “Such a statement does not respect the 62,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines currently deployed across the nation in support of their fellow Americans, typically operating away from their families and usually at risk of their own lives.”