WASHINGTON – New York’s two U.S. Senators are joining their Democratic colleagues in condemning President Donald Trump’s threat to use military force to combat demonstrations and protests that had grown into riots in some areas of the country.
While the demonstrations have remained large but mostly without the violence both Tuesday and Wednesday, that wasn’t the case earlier in the week and over the weekend. President Trump responded on Monday by threatening to use the military to “dominate” the streets where Americans are demonstrating following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.
Trump had urged governors to call out the National Guard to contain protests that turned violent and warned that if they do not, he would invoke the Insurrection Act and send in active duty military forces.
The response by the president led to U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to join other Senate Democrats in condemning the Trump administration’s threat. In a letter to U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, Sen. Gillibrand expressed deep concerns over the use of the military to restrict what they are calling peaceful protests, which fall under rights given to Americans by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Rather than listen or acknowledge the legitimate pain of protesters and the black community, President Trump has sought to divide us further, eagerly inflaming tensions and sowing anger and fear,” said Senator Gillibrand. “His continued threats to use violence against peaceful protesters and deploy our military to states is outrageous and deeply troubling. The Department of Defense must immediately answer whether the Department would deploy federal troops outside of the use of the Insurrection Act and I demand that combat units are not used to impede on Americans’ civil liberties in the fight for racial justice.”
Defense Secretary Esper reportedly angered Trump when he said he opposed using military troops for law enforcement, seemingly taking the teeth out of the president’s threat to use the Insurrection Act. Esper said the 1807 law should be invoked “only in the most urgent and dire of situations.” He added, “We are not in one of those situations now.”
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired Marine general, also lambasted both Trump and Esper in an essay in The Atlantic for their consideration of using the active-duty military in law enforcement — and for the use of the National Guard in clearing out a largely peaceful protest at Lafayette Square near the White House on Monday evening.
According to Gillibrand’s office, the Insurrection Act, last used in 1992 during the L.A. Riots, is an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act to be invoked only under extreme conditions. The legislation allows states to request support from the federal government, and would allow the President to activate federal troops independent of a state’s request – under specific and limited conditions that Gillibrand argues are not currently met.
In the letter, Gillibrand urges the Department of Defense provide information by Friday, June 5 on whether the Department would deploy federal troops outside of the use of the Insurrection Act, if deployments would ever include combat designated troops, how troops would be trained and prepared, what the mission, scope, and rules would entail for the use of force as well if they would be authorized to perform arrests.
Schumer, meanwhile, tried to force action in the U.S. senate on Tuesday for lawmaker to approve a symbolic resolution to condemn both the violence and Trump’s actions at Lafayette Square. But Majority leader and Sen. Mitch McConnell objected, chiding Democrats for pushing a measure that he said addressed neither justice for black Americans nor “peace for our country in the face of looting.”
“Instead, it just indulges in the myopic obsession with President Trump that has come to define the Democratic side,” Mr. McConnell said.