A Pentagon spokesperson referred questions to the White House. An Army spokesperson referred to the National Security Council.
Trump’s break with Pentagon leaders on the issue comes just a week after Esper said he opposed deploying active-duty troops to respond to civil unrest, two days after Trump threatened to do just that.
Esper’s comments angered the president, and White House staff went so far as to begin drawing up a list of possible replacements. After three days of sidestepping questions about whether the president still had confidence in the defense secretary, White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany finally issued a statement of support on Esper.
McEnany highlighted Trump’s tweet during a White House briefing moments after he sent it, noting that the president is “fervently” against renaming the forts.
“To suggest these forts are somehow inherently racist and their names need to be changed is a complete disrespect to the men and women, who the last bit of American land they saw before they went overseas and lost their lives were these forts,” McEnany said.
Despite the break, one person close to the White House said Trump still has confidence in Esper.
Esper and McCarthy, prompted by protests over racial injustice and police violence that have swept the nation in recent weeks, on Monday said they were “open” to having a “bipartisan discussion” about renaming the 10 Army installations named after Confederate generals.
The move reflected a change from as recently as February, when the Army said it had no plans to rename the facilities. The decision followed the Marine Corps’ announcement that it would ban images of Confederate flags from its installations.
After the Army released its statement on Monday, the Navy said it would follow the Marine Corps’ lead in banning public display of Confederate flags.
The Army faced an uphill battle in renaming some or all of its 10 installations that honor Confederate military commanders. For years, previous calls for change have gone unheeded, as officials sought to dismiss concerns by arguing the bases were named to celebrate American soldiers and that renaming them would upend tradition.
The Army bases in question, all in Southern states, are Fort Bragg, N.C.; Forts Benning and Gordon in Georgia; Forts Pickett, A.P. Hill and Lee in Virginia; Fort Polk and Camp Beauregard in Louisiana; Fort Hood, Texas; and Fort Rucker, Ala.