Two days after one of the most controversial presidential elections in the history of the United States, President Donald Trump has been dealt another blow.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is alleged to have prepared a letter of resignation, three current defense officials have alleged, NBC News reported.
As his tenure may be coming to an end, Esper is helping members of Congress draft legislation that will strip names of Confederate leaders from military bases in a move that could put him further at odds with President Donald Trump.
While Esper considered issuing a directive that would order the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force to change the names in their respective services — an order that could be overturned by Trump, who has strongly opposed renaming bases — he now plans to work with Congress to put language in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) so the name changes will be written into law.
This week Esper provided a written framework to Pentagon leaders for renaming installations, and possibly even ships and street names on bases, that honor Confederate generals or leaders, the officials said. For example, the framework suggests that the NDAA could say that military installations cannot be named after someone who has betrayed the U.S. or committed a felony, and instead must be named after people who have met certain criteria, like having earned a Medal of Honor or Silver Star, or achieving the rank of general.
But, as the election drags on and votes continue to be counted before a winner is declared, some officials have asked him to stay, Politico reported.
Since Esper’s relationship with President Donald Trump soured this summer over his public opposition to using active-duty troops to quash civil unrest, the Defense secretary had been widely expected to depart shortly after Election Day no matter who won the presidency. The issue was revived on Thursday when NBC, citing defense officials, said Esper has prepared his letter of resignation.
Yet lawmakers, former Defense Department officials and military experts say it’s important for Esper to remain in his job as a tense America awaits the results of the vote counts in battleground states, in no small part to reassure citizens that the military will play no role in the transition of power.
“Secretary Esper is a person of sound character. President Trump has made it nearly impossible for respected public servants like Secretary [Jim] Mattis and Secretary Esper to lead the DOD,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “For the good of our country and the brave men and women in uniform, I hope he will continue to serve for the remainder of the Trump presidency.”
Some think that his staying on until a winner is decided in the election, or until the inauguration, would send a signal to allies that business as usual was continuing.
“This is a matter of national security,” Arnold Punaro, who is the former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a retired Marine Corps major general, said. “During the next 76 days, our allies and adversaries should understand that President Trump retains full powers as commander in chief and the chain of command is intact from him to Secretary Esper to the warfighting commanders.”