President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday after tensions between the two intensified over the summer. The president named Christopher C. Miller, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, as the acting secretary of Defense. While there had been rumors that Esper would resign after the election, Politico reported as recently as this weekend that the president was not expected to fire Esper, and the assistant to the secretary of Defense for public affairs said last Thursday that "Esper has no plans to resign, nor has he been asked to submit a letter of resignation."
Indeed, Senate leaders including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Armed Services Committee Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) reportedly warned the president about rocking the boat during what The Hill characterizes as "a critical moment abroad," with "the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, where there is increasing violence; ongoing tensions with Iran; and ramped-up Chinese aggression in the South China Sea."
As Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement last week, "For the good of our country and the brave men and women in uniform, I hope [Esper] will continue to serve for the remainder of the Trump presidency." Additionally, as Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, explained to The Hill, with the world looking on during America's tense transfer of power, "it would be ideal for continuity at the top."
Trump and Esper clashed after Trump said his generals told him the massive explosion in Beirut was an "attack"; Esper contradicted Trump the next day, saying all indications suggested the explosion was an accident, USA Today reports. Trump and Esper also failed to see eye-to-eye over the Black Lives Matter protests; Trump wanted a military crackdown, while Esper refused to invoke the Insurrection Act. The pair had even butted heads about removing Confederate generals' names from military bases.