The Army had made a decision to send a unit of the 82nd Airborne’s rapid deployment force, about 200 troops, home from the capital region. But Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Esper during the angry meeting at the White House to reverse it, the administration official said. The reversal was first reported by The Associated Press.
Despite calls for calm from senior Pentagon leaders, the troops on the ground in Washington on Wednesday night appeared to be ramping up for a more militarized show of force. National Guard units pushed solidly ahead of the police near the White House, almost becoming the public face of the security presence. They also blocked the streets with Army transport trucks and extended the perimeter against protesters.
Although Mr. Esper’s comments at the Pentagon made clear that a rise in violence in cities nationwide could prompt a change in his stance, his statement was clear. Saying that the Insurrection Act should be invoked only in the “most urgent and dire of situations,” he added that “we are not in one of those situations now.”
Mr. Esper, a West Point graduate who once served in the 101st Airborne Division, said, “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
At the White House, Ms. McEnany said that, for now, Mr. Trump was “relying on surging the streets with National Guard.” But, she noted: “The Insurrection Act is a tool available. The president has the sole authority and, if needed, he will use it.”
General Milley has been able to influence Mr. Trump in ways that Mr. Esper, who the president views with skepticism, has not, White House officials said.
Mr. Esper’s explicit opposition to invoking the act came only days after he described the country as a “battle space” to be cleared, a comment that drew harsh condemnation from a number of former senior military officials — the kind who usually do not criticize the successors across the Pentagon leadership. The use of the term, bandied about in battlefield command centers, implies a piece of terrain, disassembled in grid squares, characterized by threats and awaiting one solution: military force through violence.