The Associated Press first reported yesterday afternoon that active-duty service members deployed to staging areas just outside Washington D.C. were ordered to go home, but that order was reversed several hours later under circumstances that weren't entirely clear.
Bloomberg reports that the order to keep the troops in place came from Trump after a confrontation with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in the Oval Office.
President Donald Trump confronted his Defense secretary, Mark Esper, after the Pentagon chief publicly opposed the idea of deploying the military to contain protests, according to people familiar with the matter.
Esper met with Trump in the Oval Office after telling reporters at the Pentagon that active-duty military forces to perform law enforcement within the U.S. is “a matter of last resort” and that the National Guard was better-suited to the task. [...]
His remarks generated irritation at the White House, where three Trump aides who asked not to be identified said the secretary should have moderated his comments to draw less of a distinction with the president.
Bloomberg also reports that Trump asked his adviser if they believe Esper could still serve as the secretary of defense after he left the room, another indication that Esper could be on his way out.
Just a few minutes before I began writing this, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement praising both Esper and Attorney General William Barr, adding that Trump should be happy he has such a great team around him. I obviously don't think they're great, but that was a signal from McConnell to Trump that he should back off. Moreover, it was a signal that it may be impossible to replace Esper.
Trump is ultimately going to do whatever he wants, but if he does fire Esper there's little if any chance another secretary could be confirmed between now and the November election. And even if another could be confirmed, what are they going to do? Run the Pentagon for 3 or 4 months and hope the next president keeps them? Who would want that job other than someone significantly worse than Esper?
The very high chances that Trump could replace anyone under him with someone worse always makes me feel a little bit hesitant to say they should be fired. William Barr is worse than Jeff Sessions, for example, and the next man up after Esper could be as lawless as Barr.
As of right now, some 1,600 active-duty service members are sitting around outside Washington D.C. away from their families because Trump is deathly afraid of unarmed protesters. The Associated Press just learned that Trump has scheduled a trip to his golf club in New Jersey this weekend; meaning he'll be on the golf course while The Troops are twiddling their thumbs as his political footballs.