Mitch McConnell offers public support for embattled Defense Secretary Mark Esper
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday offered public support for Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper a day after the White House declined to specifically say President Trump has confidence in his defense secretary.
Mr. McConnell also praised the leadership of Attorney General William P. Barr amid national unrest after the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last week.
“In these challenging times, the President and the American people are very well-served by the expert advice and principled leadership of people like Secretary Esper and Attorney General Barr,” Mr. McConnell said on Twitter.
Mr. McConnell said he appreciates the “dedicated work” of Mr. Esper and Mr. Barr at a difficult time for the country “and their steadfast commitment to their constitutional duties to preserve peace and order, uphold liberty, and protect the American people so they can freely exercise their rights.”
“I am glad President Trump has assembled such an impressive team that is working hard for all Americans,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Mr. McConnell has made confirming Mr. Trump’s judicial nominees a top priority, and any Cabinet shake-ups or unexpected vacancies could potentially cost him valuable Senate floor time for that effort.
There are no public signs to suggest Mr. Trump is less than satisfied with Mr. Barr, but White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was noncommittal when asked multiple times Wednesday if the president still had confidence in Mr. Esper.
“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 said.
Mr. Esper had said earlier in the day on Wednesday that he doesn’t support invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 to leverage active-duty U.S. forces to respond to the ongoing unrest after the president had threatened to use it.
The secretary has also pleaded partial ignorance about Mr. Trump’s plan to walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House on Monday.
Law enforcement cleared the area of protesters shortly before Mr. Trump spoke in the Rose Garden. Although the U.S. Park Police said tear gas was not used, acting Chief Gregory T. Monahan said officers did deploy pepper balls, which can have a similar effect.
Mr. Barr had personally been on the scene observing the area ahead of Mr. Trump’s address.