Democrats slam Esper's curt answers on the military's involvement in the election

Washington Two Democratic members of Congress slammed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s curt answers on the military’s potential role in the upcoming presidential election and transfer of power after he declined to explicitly rule out the armed forces becoming involved, saying only that “the US military has acted, and will continue to act, in accordance with the Constitution and the law.”

A spokesman for the Pentagon defended Esper’s response, saying it “clearly avoided wading into deliberately phrased and politically-tinged questions from members.”
The Pentagon and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have previously explicitly ruled out any US military involvement in settling any election disputes.
Last month President Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition should he lose the November election, leading some to speculate that he might seek to use the tools of presidential power including his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to prolong his time in office.
    Esper was responding to a series of written questions from two members of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, who asked Esper “If you were ordered to send active duty military to be present at the polls during election day, would you refuse such an order?”
    Esper responded with the same exact answer to several other questions pertaining to the election and the transfer of power, including a question that said, “If somebody other than the legitimate President as certified by Congress ordered you to use the military to prevent the peaceful transition of power from one President to another, would you refuse such an order?”
    Esper’s one sentence responses were slammed Slotkin and Sherrill.
    “Rep. Slotkin and I put questions to the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in July to ensure that our military leaders understand the role and responsibilities of our military in an election,” Sherrill said in a statement.
    “We have not received a direct commitment from Secretary Esper that he will refuse commands from an illegitimate President. Given the fact that the President has used our military for partisan purposes in the past and that the President has suggested he will not concede if he loses, it is incumbent upon the Secretary of Defense to fulfill his constitutional duties and ensure the apolitical role of the military,” she added.
    Chief Pentagon Spokesman Jonathan Hoffman responded to their statement, saying, “We will take the opportunity created by this renewed, undeserved criticism to restate that regardless of how lengthy a political hypothetical question from a member of Congress may be, the Department will persist in remaining apolitical.”

    Top general clearly ruled out military playing a role in the election

    Milley provided a much lengthier series of responses to similar questions from Slotkin and Sherill in August, saying explicitly that he did not see a role for the US military in settling and election disputes. Esper submitted his responses earlier this month.
    Milley again ruled out any role for the US military in a contested election in an interview with NPR that was broadcast Monday, saying, “This isn’t the first time that someone has suggested that there might be a contested election. And if there is, it’ll be handled appropriately by the courts and by the US Congress. There’s no role for the US military in determining the outcome of a US election. Zero.”
    “Congresswoman Sherrill and I wrote to Secretary Esper and Chairman Milley both as Cabinet-level officials but also as the senior-most representatives of the uniformed military. Beyond service to any one president, they have a responsibility to uphold the conduct and reputation of the institution that they love,” Slotkin said.
    “I appreciated that General Milley’s responses to our questions came from that perspective —- both in terms of what he would do as a Cabinet-level official, but also demonstrating how important the apolitical reputation of the military is to him. We heard no such thing from Secretary Esper in his responses. And on a question as serious as the peaceful transition of power, it should be pretty cut and dried to be able to respond in a declarative way,” she added.
    Some experts believe that the Constitution and US laws largely prevent an American president from using the military and other organs of executive power to prolong his tenure in the face of a disputed election.
      “Our laws and history make clear that the military has no formal role in resolving electoral disputes; that job falls in various manifestations to voters, the states, Congress, and the courts, and if there is any need for enforcement of electoral procedures or security, that is the job of civilian law enforcement in the first place, not the military,” Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst, said last month.
      The DC National Guard has received no requests from other federal agencies related to security or potential unrest surrounding the 2020 election, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said on Tuesday. He sought to downplay any role the Guard might serve in November, telling Pentagon reporters that its role would be limited to helping protect federal property and to “support[ing] law enforcement.”

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