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The Pentagon held off on promoting two female generals over concerns about how then-President Donald Trump might react, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
Last fall, Mark Esper, then the secretary of defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley decided that Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost and Army Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson should be promoted to four-star commands, but they didn’t immediately move forward due to concerns that the nominations would hit a roadblock at the White House.
The New York Times wrote that “the two Pentagon leaders feared that any candidates other than white men for jobs mostly held by white men might run into turmoil.” Other political factors may have also been involved.
Esper and Milley reportedly decided to delay the nominations until Trump and his team were out of office, assuming that a new Biden administration would be more willing to accept the nominations than the Trump White House with which Esper and Milley had occasionally fought.
Esper, who was fired shortly after the presidential election, acknowledged in an interview with The Times that the submission of the promotion nominations were delayed, specifically noting the political concerns.
Van Ovost and Richardson, who were expected to be nominated to lead Transportation Command and Southern Command, “were chosen because they were the best officers for the jobs, and I didn’t want their promotions derailed because someone in the Trump White House saw that I recommended them or thought DoD was playing politics,” he said. “This was not the case. They were the best qualified. We were doing the right thing.”
Trump and other members of his administration sometimes feuded with both Esper and Milley.
The two men opposed the president’s desire to invoke the Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops into cities to stop unrest surrounding racial justice protests, expressed regret for participating in Trump’s photo-op following the forceful clearing of peaceful protesters from a park, and suggested renaming bases honoring Confederate officers.
Esper and Milley reportedly feared that if they sent their nomination to the president, the White House would simply replace their choice with someone else. Had Trump won the election though, they would have submitted the nominations to the White House and hoped for the best.
In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, the Pentagon underwent upheaval as the White House purged numerous positions, including the secretary of defense, his chief of staff, and the top intelligence and policy positions, and filled those posts with Trump allies.
Chris Miller, who took over as acting secretary of defense after Esper’s departure, disputed other assertions on the delays, telling the The New York Times that the promotion nominations for the two generals were delayed due to timing considerations and were purposefully held back until the new Congress took office.
The Pentagon did not respond to Insider’s requests for comments on the reported promotion delays.
Van Ovost currently oversees a four-star command as head of Air Force Mobility Command, and Richardson is the three-star commander of the Army branch of Northern Command.
Their nominations for promotion are expected to be sent to the White House for endorsement within the next few weeks.