Democrats on House Armed Services panel 'dismayed and gravely concerned' with Esper

Democrats on House Armed Services panel 'dismayed and gravely concerned' with Esper
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Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee added to the chorus of calls for Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Key impeachment witness retires | Duckworth presses for information | Subpanel advances defense measure | Democrats press for end to military transgender ban 116 House Democrats push for end to transgender military ban following Supreme Court ruling Vindman, key impeachment witness, to retire from Army MORE to keep the military out of nationwide protests, telling the Pentagon chief on Thursday that troops "should not plan or execute attacks" against civilians.

“We are dismayed and gravely concerned regarding your recent statements and subsequent actions in response to the civil unrest in our nation," 16 Democratic members of the committee wrote in a letter to Esper led by Army veteran Rep. Anthony BrownAnthony Gregory BrownHouse eyes votes to remove symbols of Confederates from Capitol House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year MORE (Md.) and Rep. Lori TrahanLori A. TrahanDemocrats on House Armed Services panel 'dismayed and gravely concerned' with Esper The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Pfizer's Mikael Dolsten says vaccine development timeline being cut in half; House poised to pass 4 billion relief package MA lawmakers press HHS secretary on status of state's protective equipment MORE (Mass.).

"As Secretary, you have authority, direction and control over the Department of Defense. Your rhetoric and command set the standard for all who serve our country,” they added.

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Esper earlier this week came under criticism for describing U.S. cities and streets as a “battlespace” in a call with Trump and governors to address the protests stemming from the killing of George Floyd in police custody. Some of the demonstrations have turned violent, with looting and clashes with law enforcement.

“This week you described American streets and communities as a 'battlespace' that must be 'dominate[d]. ... In response to this, let us be clear: United States citizens are not the enemy and our military should not plan or execute attacks against them,” the lawmakers wrote.

Esper also took heat for accompanying Trump for a photo-op at St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House, after a chaotic and violent scene in which police cleared peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square.

In addition, Monday night also saw military helicopters flying low to the ground on D.C. streets to clear protesters — a move reminiscent of the military’s show-of-force tactic for dispersing insurgents overseas.

“These actions are inappropriate under our military doctrine and the values of our society upon which they are built,” lawmakers wrote.

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Two days later, Esper sought to tamp down the growing criticism by calling Floyd’s death a "horrible crime," and breaking with Trump in saying he is opposed to the invocation of the Insurrection Act, which would allow the U.S. military to be used for domestic law enforcement.

More than 28,000 National Guard personnel are now deployed across 28 states and Washington, D.C., to help control the protests. Lawmakers on Thursday pointed out that those numbers are “a greater force than the combined number of troops we currently have deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.”

“The actions that you and our armed forces take in the coming days will ultimately be viewed through the lens of history," the Democratic lawmakers wrote. "As a leader you must have the confidence to stand alone and the courage to make tough decisions. Those under your leadership will be looking to you for the integrity of your words and the equity of your actions. As the civilian leader of our armed forces, we call on you to heed these words and set a standard for our servicemen and women that history will recognize as a positive force in the resolution of this unrest.”