WASHINGTON (CN) — Days after President-elect Joe Biden claimed victory in a historic and hotly contested election, President Donald Trump announced Monday he is firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The president, after being at odds with Esper on a series of issues, said Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, will serve as acting secretary of defense. The Senate is unlikely to confirm a new nominee before Trump exits the White House in January.
“Chris will do a GREAT job! Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service,” the president said in a series of tweets.
Whispers of Esper’s exit began to circle in Washington as last week’s election dragged on. His spokesperson, however, denied reports that the secretary expected to be fired and had prepared a resignation letter even before the final votes were counted.
Senate Republicans, among them Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe, reportedly urged Trump to keep on Esper, who stepped into the role in June 2019 having served as secretary of the Army.
The defense head had clashed with the president this summer over the use of military force against protesters rallying over racial injustice in the United States.
While Trump labeled demonstrators “lowlifes and losers” and called for state governors to deploy the National Guard, Esper said the use of active-duty troops as law enforcement was a last resort.
Esper specifically told reporters in June that he did not support invoking the Insurrection Act, a law dating back to 1807 that would allow Trump to deploy military force in response to civil unrest.
“I say this not only as secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire situations. We are not in one of those situations now,” he said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at the time that Trump has the “sole authority” on the matter. Asked if the president was bothered by Esper’s comments at the Pentagon, McEnany was vague in her response.
“I would say if he loses confidence in Secretary Esper I’m sure you all will be the first to know. As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper, and should the president lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future,” she told reporters.
The now-ousted defense secretary was also working with members of Congress to add language to the annual National Defense Authorization Act to remove the names of Confederate Army officers from military bases, a measure sharply criticized by Trump.
While the president has yet to concede the election to Biden, bringing long-promised legal fights, the possibility of Trump firing other Cabinet secretaries after Esper hovers.
The Pentagon and the White House did not provide immediate comment on the president’s announcement Monday afternoon.
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