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Defense Secretary Comes Out against Deploying Military to Put Down Riots

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon, January 14, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper drew the ire of the White House Wednesday for publicly stating that he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty military to states beset by unrest, after President Trump said Monday that he would invoke the act if states did not “dominate the streets.”

“I have always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best-suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations,” Esper told reporters. “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 of situations. We are not in one of those situations now.”

In an interview with NBC News, the defense secretary also called Trump’s Monday walk to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was damaged by fire during riots on Sunday night, a “photo op.”

Multiple reports said White House officials were surprised and disappointed with Esper’s comments, and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not say whether Trump still has confidence in Esper when asked at her Wednesday press conference.

“As of right now Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper,” McEnany said. “Should the president lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future.”

Trump said during a Rose Garden address Monday night that he would send in the military unless state governors deployed the National Guard “in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) first raised the Insurrection Act as an option on Monday morning, and wrote a Wednesday op-ed in the New York Times after Esper’s comments, reiterating his call for troops on the ground.

The Associated Press then reported Wednesday afternoon that, after a White House meeting, Esper reversed a prior decision to send approximately 200 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne home after they had been in D.C. to help deal with ongoing tension.

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