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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 John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE’s abrupt firing of Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump loyalist to lead Pentagon transition | Democrats ask VA for vaccine distribution plan | Biden to get classified intel reports Ex-Nunes aide linked to Biden conspiracy theories will lead Pentagon transition Brennan takes final shot at Trump: 'I leave his fate to our judicial system, his infamy to history, & his legacy to a trash heap' 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 BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' 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 SmithHouse Democrat accuses Air Force of attempting to influence Georgia runoff races US national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names 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 PelosiSpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation Rep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-Calif.) said in a statement. 

Rep. Elissa SlotkinElissa SlotkinBickering Democrats return with divisions Questions swirl at Pentagon after wave of departures Overnight Defense: Another Defense official resigns | Pentagon chief says military 'remains strong' despite purge | Top contender for Biden DOD secretary would be historic pick 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 Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up 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 face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Hoyer on Trump election challenges: 'I think this borders on treason' Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview 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 face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus 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 WarnerBiden leans on foreign policy establishment to build team Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin Hillicon Valley: Leadership changes at top cyber agency raise national security concerns | Snapchat launches in-app video platform 'Spotlight' | Uber, Lyft awarded federal transportation contract 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. 

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“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 WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans 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 MoultonUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Democratic lawmakers lambast Trump over Esper firing as GOP remains mum 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 ThornberryOvernight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses Defense bill moves to formal negotiations with Confederate name fight looming Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' 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 InhofeHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' 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.”