Democratic lawmakers lambast Trump over Esper firing as GOP remains mum

Democratic lawmakers lambast Trump over Esper firing as GOP remains mum
© Greg Nash

Democratic lawmakers on Monday condemned President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE’s abrupt firing of Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperJan. 6 panel subpoenas four ex-Trump aides Bannon, Meadows Milley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan MORE, calling the move “destabilizing” and an attempt to “sow chaos” ahead of the presidential transition. 

Trump earlier on Monday announced via Twitter that he fired Esper, only minutes after the Pentagon chief was himself notified of the decision. The move comes days after former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Pressure grows to cut diplomatic red tape for Afghans left behind President Biden is making the world a more dangerous place MORE was projected to have won the presidential race, which Trump has refused to concede. 

“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,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes sweeping defense policy bill MORE (D-Wash.) said in response. “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.”

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Trump will replace Esper with Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Christopher Miller, “effective immediately,” Trump said in a series of tweets. 

The firing of Esper — who had been seen as a dead man walking regardless of who won the election — now gives Trump a chance to use his executive powers in a last ditch effort to project strength amid his electoral defeat. 

National security experts and some lawmakers have warned about the dangers of having a rudderless Pentagon during the presidential transition period if U.S. adversaries such as Russia, China and Iran try to cause trouble.

Lawmakers are now also alarmed at what actions Trump may try to push through in the 11 weeks he has left in office.

The timing of Esper’s firing “raises serious questions about Trump’s planned actions for the final days of his Administration,” House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNorth Dakota Republican latest House breakthrough COVID-19 case Pelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement. 

Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinWHIP LIST: How House Democrats say they'll vote on infrastructure bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles Hoyer tells Israel removal of Iron Dome funding is 'technical postponement' MORE (D-Mich.), a former defense official and CIA analyst, tweeted that Trump may have fired Esper because he “wants to take actions that he believes his Secretary of Defense would refuse to take, which would be alarming.” 

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Lawmakers, many of whom worried that the dismissal was out of spite, also say the move can only hurt the country.

“Firing the Secretary of Defense in the waning weeks of the Administration undermines national security at a critical moment,” said Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack ReedJack ReedTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake MORE (D-R.I.). 

Pelosi said she feared that Esper’s dismissal “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.”

“It is disturbing and dangerous that, at this precarious moment, our military will now be led by an official who has not been confirmed for this position by the Senate,” she added. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol House Democrats set 'goal' to vote on infrastructure, social spending package next week Holding back on defensive systems for Israel could have dangerous consequences MORE (D-Md.), said Trump’s decision “is nothing less than a temper tantrum by someone upset at being rejected by the majority of voters in this country.

“The removal of Secretary Esper presents real threats to our national security, as it comes in the middle of a presidential transition - already a moment when our adversaries are seeking to exploit any weakness and take advantage of any divisions or distractions for our government and military. ... I pray that the consequences of [Trump’s] actions in this case are minimal.” 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Panic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said firing Esper “in the last weeks of a lame duck Presidency serves no purpose and only demonstrates an instability harmful to American national defense.”

Kaine added that Esper “has served this nation honorably despite the many challenges posed by this President,” and the nation owes a debt of gratitude to Esper “and the countless public servants at DOD that will have to work in the tumultuous remaining weeks ahead of the Trump presidency.” 

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerPanic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Schumer announces Senate-House deal on tax 'framework' for .5T package MORE (D-Va.), meanwhile, said he was “deeply troubled” by the firing, which comes at a time “our adversaries are already seeking vulnerabilities they can exploit.”

Other lawmakers took the moment to urge their colleagues as well as military leaders to uphold the Constitution, as there are fears Trump could use the tumultuous period before he is ousted to act without pushback.

Trump was reportedly angered and wanted to fire Esper this summer when the Pentagon chief resisted the president’s threat to deploy active-duty troops to quell nationwide racial justice protests. Esper responded by holding a press conference at the Pentagon announcing his opposition to deploying troops.

But with Miller now at the helm, it remains to be seen what the new acting Defense secretary will offer as far as resistance to controversial moves. 

“Donald Trump fired someone who wouldn’t order U.S. troops to attack peaceful protesters and is replacing him with someone he may think will carry out those orders,” Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-Ore.) said in a statement. “I opposed Chris Miller’s nomination earlier this year, because he refused to promise that intelligence agencies wouldn’t target Americans based on their political views. He should remember that anyone who carries out an illegal order from Donald Trump will be held fully accountable under the law.” 

Former Marine Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonHow lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation GOP lawmaker says he did not threaten US Embassy staff in Tajikistan House panel approves B boost for defense budget MORE (D-Mass.) said he has “no doubt” that Esper was fired for being critical of Trump’s policies. He said he hopes the commander in chief does nothing between now and Biden’s inauguration that puts the Joint Chiefs of Staff “in a position where they will need to make a partisan decision on a civilian, political matter.” 

“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. 

“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,” he said.

Slotkin, who said she worked with Miller during her at the Pentagon, and more recently during his time at the National Counterterrorism Center, said on twitter thatit is critical that he, and all senior Pentagon leaders, remember that they swore an oath to the Constitution, not any one man.”

“I did not always agree with Secretary Esper but I always knew that he cared deeply for our men and women in uniform. ... All leaders must decide what they will do in the next 72 days. I strongly urge Acting Secretary Miller to remember that the country and the military he has dedicated his life to are counting on him to do the right thing,” Slotkin wrote in a series of tweets 

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In contrast, Congressional Republicans seemed reluctant to chastise Trump for Esper’s firing. Several offered statements that praised the former Pentagon chief but did not mention the president.   

“Mark Esper has served the nation well under very challenging circumstances,” said House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Lobbying world Senate poised to override Trump's defense bill veto MORE (R-Texas), who is retiring when his term ends in January. “He has helped lead the Department of Defense toward being more efficient and better prepared to deter peer adversaries. He has been an effective advocate for the men and women in uniform and their families. He deserves the gratitude of every American.”

Fellow committee member Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) only said that Esper “was an outstanding Secretary of Defense” and that “his leadership had the support of our military and the American people.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse MORE (R-Okla.) offered a similar response to the leadership change, thanking Esper for his service. 

Inhofe also said he had recently spoken with Miller, and looks "forward to working with him to ensure that these priorities remain paramount and to working with President Trump to maintain stability at the Pentagon, particularly as we work to enact the 60th annual National Defense Authorization Act.”