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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 EsperCutting defense spending by 10 percent would debilitate America's military Overnight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings Trump campaign event use of Marine Corps helicopter raises ethics questions 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 BrownOvernight Defense: Trump, Biden set to meet in final debate | Explicit Fort Bragg tweets were sent by account administrator | China threatens retaliation over Taiwan arms sale Trump, Pentagon collide over anti-diversity training push Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (Md.) and Rep. Lori TrahanLori A. TrahanEthics panel finds Massachusetts Democrat didn't violate rules Democrats 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 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.”