Donald Trump has talked to White House officials about firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper and replacing him with Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, according to three senior administration officials, NBC News is reporting.
Trump, who has long been unhappy with Esper, has discussed the position directly with Wilkie, two senior administration officials have said, and Wilkie discussed with the White House becoming Trump’s acting defense secretary if Esper is fired.
Although Trump has not ruled out making changes before the November election, he has been advised against doing so. Two senior officials said there are no current plans to remove Esper.
“There are no plans to replace Secretary Esper,” one of the officials said, the publication reports.
Trump has told aides for months that he is unhappy with Esper, his third defense secretary who has served for just over a year, with whom he frequently disagrees with. Just last week, the president and Esper disagreed over the decision to cut funding to the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, with Trump saying it was “politically stupid,” tweeting out against the cut.
Tension between the two heated up even further after allegations arose that Trump called veterans “suckers” and “losers.”
Wilkie has served as Veterans Administration secretary since 2018, has worked various positions at the Pentagon, and has most recently been apart of Mike Pence’s coronavirus task force.