Congressman Smith Rejects Trump’s Call for Military Intervention

by Emerald Staff

Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA 9th Congressional District, including South Seattle), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, answered questions from journalists at a press conference on Tuesday about President Trump’s call to utilize the U.S. military to intervene to stop the “insurrection” of demonstrators protesting the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. According to Trump, states have been weak in handling demonstrators and he said he would call in the military if states don’t bring order to their cities soon. Many legal experts and communities are concerned about the constitutionality of Trump’s proposal to use the military in a domestic situation.

The Posse Comitatus Act (1878) prohibits use of the U.S. Army to aid civil officials in enforcing the law or suppressing civil disorder unless expressly ordered to do so by the president. These limited circumstances are when requested by a governor or to enforce the law (e.g., desegregating public schools in the 1960’s). Trump’s approach to go into states and stop people from demonstrating their First Amendment rights would likely not be an appropriate use of the act. Garrett Epps, professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, writes in The Atlantic that the clearing of peaceful protestors from Lafayette Park near the White House on Monday was “a monstrous violation of America’s venerable right of assembly.

During the press conference, Congressman Smith said, “it (Trump’s approach) is an extreme reaction and a real risk. … What Trump did was send exactly the wrong message,” Smith said, referring to Trump’s invoking war terminology. 

Smith raised concerns about the role of the military and he noted he will be calling Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper before the House Armed Services Committee as soon as can be scheduled next week. In addition to questioning them about how they would use the military if Trump orders it, he will also question them about selling excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies. Smith emphasized that there’s a role for the National Guard to assist in natural disasters as well as supporting COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic efforts. But he considers these roles as quite different from using military force. 

Smith added about the upcoming hearing, “this is not an investigation. I want to know what they plan to do.” He added that in the course of such an inquiry, Milley and Esper will be asked what they’ve already done, in particular, the forceful removal of demonstrators near the White House by police and the National Guard so that the president could walk across the street for a photo op. 

Smith also indicated that House members will participate in a hybrid hearing format, with both in-person and internet participation. 

Smith, whose district encompasses South Seattle, Renton, Kent, and Tacoma, expressed grave concerns about the president’s proposal, at a time when Seattle has been in turmoil as Seattle Police Department officers violently confronted protestors over the past several days. Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee activated 200 members of the National Guard at the request of the City of Seattle on Saturday, but specified they will not be armed. 

The congressman said he’s troubled by the president’s recent words and wants answers. “He thinks he doesn’t have to answer to the Constitution,” Smith said. “That’s deeply dangerous.”

Featured image courtesy of Africa Center.