White House: Esper is SecDef 'as of right now,' amid rift over deploying military in riots

If president 'loses confidence in Secretary Esper, I'm sure you all will be the first to know,' White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters.

Last Updated:
June 3, 2020 - 7:31pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that Mark Esper remains Defense Secretary amid a public divide between him and President Trump over deploying the U.S. military to contain the George Floyd protests that have turned destructive and deadly.

"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," McEnany told reporters. "If he loses confidence in Secretary Esper, I'm sure you all will be the first to know."

During a series of remarks made Wednesday morning, Esper said that he does "not support invoking the Insurrection Act" as a way to quell the riots that have overtaken cities across the country in the wake of Floyd's death.

In the wake of the riots, Trump suggested that he may deploy the U.S. military to cities that need help protecting their residents and infrastructure, which began a discussion of whether he would invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807. 

"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 situation," Esper said. "We are not in one of those situations now."

However, the White House seemed to rebuke Esper publicly on Wednesday afternoon, asserting its power over whether to use the Act.

"This president has the sole authority to invoke the Insurrection Act," McEnany said. "It is definitely a tool within his power. The president has one singular aim: it is protecting America's streets. We cannot have burning churches. We cannot have police officers who are shot. We cannot have businesses that are looted and destroyed. The Insurrection Act is a tool that is available. The president has the whole authority, and if needed, he will use it. But at this time, he is relying on surging the streets with National Guard. It's worked to great effect here in D.C. and in Minnesota as well."

In response to a question about his visit alongside the president to St. John's Church on Monday evening, Esper said, "My aim is to keep the department out of politics."

He also said: "I do everything I can to try and stay apolitical. ... Sometimes I'm successful at doing that, and sometimes I'm not as successful."

Esper said he had to end press conference to go to the White House. 

Later he reversed course on the Pentagon's plan earlier in the day to return about 200 active-duty 82nd Airborne troops home that are currently in the DC area. 

According to the Associated Press, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy explained that the change of plans occurred after Esper went to a White House meeting and following Pentagon discussions.

The AP noted that it is not evident whether Esper met with the president. Active-duty troops in the region have not yet been utilized according to AP.

Shop Our Store