Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday blasted President Trump for firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper just two days after Joe Biden was projected as the winner of the presidential election.
“The abrupt firing of Secretary Esper 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,” Pelosi said in a statement.
“Continuity and stability are always important during a presidential transition; they are absolutely imperative at this moment, as this historically erratic Administration prepares for its departure,” she added.
Trump announced via tweet that he had fired Esper and would replace him with Christopher Miller, who has been serving as director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as acting secretary of Defense.
Esper had been seen as likely to leave the Trump administration regardless of the presidential election results given that he had clashed at times with the president, including during the summer’s nationwide racial justice protests. Esper announced his opposition to Trump threatening to deploy active-duty troops to quell the protests.
Trump and Esper also clashed over renaming military bases honoring Confederate generals. Esper signaled that he was open to changing the installations’ names, but Trump opposed it. Esper also issued a memo in July that effectively banned the display of the Confederate flag on military installations.
Trump said publicly in August that he “considers firing everybody” when asked whether he would dismiss Esper, which further fueled expectations that he would eventually be fired.
Esper’s abrupt dismissal raises questions about the military chain of command during the presidential transition. Trump has still not publicly accepted the election results or conceded to Biden.
“Again and again, Trump’s recklessness endangers our national security. 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,” Pelosi said.
Esper said in an interview with the Military Times published Monday after Trump’s announcement – but conducted last week – that he objected to being viewed as a “yes man” and rejected the “Yesper” nickname given by his critics.
“My frustration is I sit here and say, ‘Hm, 18 Cabinet members. Who’s pushed back more than anybody?’ Name another Cabinet secretary that’s pushed back,” he told the Military Times. “Have you seen me on a stage saying, ‘Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?’ ”
When asked in the interview if other defense secretaries had to spend as much time balancing the president’s demands with the national security consequences, Esper said: “Probably not.”
“At the end of the day, it’s as I said – you’ve got to pick your fights,” Esper said. “I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that – why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”