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Biden vows not to use National Guard as a political prop

In a screen capture from a YouTube video, former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the NGAUS Conference 2020

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By STEVE BEYNON | ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: August 31, 2020

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden vowed not to exploit the National Guard for political purposes, and to restore the relationship between civilians and the military, in his latest effort to draw a sharp contrast between him and President Donald Trump.

“I promise you, as president, I’ll never put you in the middle of politics, or personal vendettas,” Biden said Saturday during a virtual gathering of the National Guard Association of the United States. “I’ll never use the military as a prop or as a private militia to violate rights of fellow citizens. That’s not law and order. You don’t deserve that.”

The former vice president said the civilian and military relationship has been “tested lately,” referencing Trump’s demands earlier in the summer for governors to use Guard troops to “dominate” the streets amid nationwide protests against police brutality.

“I’m suggesting to some of these governors that are too proud ... Don’t be proud. Get the job done. You’ll end up doing much better in the end, calling the National Guard. Call me,’” Trump said in June during remarks at the White House about the protests across the country. “You have to dominate the streets. You can’t let what’s happening, happen.”

Biden’s remarks came after Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told House lawmakers last week that the military will not play a role in November’s election and troops will not handle any disputes over the results.

“I believe deeply in the principle of an apolitical U.S. military," Milley wrote in responses to several questions posed by two Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee. “In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law, U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. military. I foresee no role for the U.S armed forces in this process.”

Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper had issued apologies for accompanying Trump on June 1 during the height of the protests in a walk from the White House across the street to St. John’s Church. Ahead of the walk to the church, U.S. Park Police cleared the area of protesters with rubber bullets and batons. Acting Chief Gregory Monahan of the Park Police told Congress in a hearing on the incident that no police were injured ahead of the street clearing and that law enforcement knew the president intended to visit the church. Soldiers with the National Guard were there but did not engage protesters.

Milley called it a “mistake” because he said his presence suggested the military formally supports Trump’s politics instead of remaining apolitical. In a news briefing the next day, Esper said: "Look, I do everything I can to try and stay apolitical and try to stay out of situations that may appear political. Sometimes, I'm successful, and sometimes I'm not as successful."

Trump has maintained a law-and-order message during his campaign for reelection amid ongoing riots and protests in some cities following multiple police killings of Black men. In many cases, Trump has urged the deployment of the National Guard as a response to protests.

Trump claimed Monday that he saved Kenosha, Wisc., when he insisted Guard troops be activated to respond to protesters. There are hundreds of Guard soldiers from several states deployed to support law enforcement in Kenosha. All units deployed to Kenosha are on state orders from governors, according to the National Guard Bureau.

“If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now. Also, there would have been great death and injury. I want to thank Law Enforcement and the National Guard. I will see you on Tuesday!,” tweeted Trump, who plans to visit Kenosha on Tuesday.

Trump also called on Biden to back the deployment of the National Guard in “crime-infested Democrat cities and states” without specifying the locations where soldiers should be utilized and what the mission would be. “When is he going to suggest bringing up the National Guard in BADLY RUN & Crime Infested Democrat Cities & States? Remember, he can’t lose the Crazy Bernie Super Liberal vote!” Trump tweeted Monday.

Beynon.Steven@Stripes.com
Twitter: @StevenBeynon