Navy Secretary Pushed Out by Trump Says He’ll Endorse Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — The Navy secretary ousted by President Trump said Thursday that he would endorse Michael R. Bloomberg for president, a high-profile defection that Mr. Bloomberg’s allies hope will convince Democratic voters that their best chance of defeating Mr. Trump is the former mayor of New York.

Richard V. Spencer, who was ousted as Navy secretary in November after he publicly disagreed with Mr. Trump’s intervention in an extraordinary war crimes case involving a member of the Navy SEALs, is a lifelong Republican.

In a telephone interview, he said he had never before voted for a Democrat, but was ready to do so now. His support could help the argument by Mr. Bloomberg that, as a successful businessman himself, he is uniquely qualified to take on Mr. Trump and become the next commander in chief.

“We need a leader who can bring the country together,” Mr. Spencer said, rather than the “cleaving” that he said had occurred under the stewardship of his former boss.

“This is not about a party. This is not about left and right. It’s about where can we find a solution to get the country working together and be unified, with an operable political system,” he said.

On Friday, Mr. Spencer, a former Marine, will join Mr. Bloomberg in Norfolk, Va., where the Democratic presidential hopeful will unveil his plan to address the economic and health concerns of veterans and military families. The area hosts major military bases, and is a favorite location for retired members of the armed services.

Military communities are an important constituency in a number of Super Tuesday states, including Virginia.

The endorsement of Mr. Spencer is significant because, as a former Trump political appointee, he is an embodiment of what many view as Mr. Bloomberg’s greatest potential asset: that the candidate can make inroads with Republican voters in the November general election.

In recent days, Mr. Bloomberg, whose campaign is fueled by a multibillion-dollar personal fortune, has authorized his campaign team to double his spending on television commercials in every market where he is advertising and expand his field staff to more than 2,000 people.

Mr. Bloomberg’s route to the Democratic nomination has so far veered sharply from those of his competitors. He is skipping the first four contests in February but is aggressively contesting the array of larger states that begin voting in March.

While most Americans usually have no clue who the Navy secretary is, Mr. Spencer was at the center of one of Mr. Trump’s most explosive confrontations with the Pentagon.

In November, Mr. Trump, over the objections of senior Pentagon officials — including Mr. Spencer — reversed the demotion of a Navy SEAL commando, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, and pardoned two other service members who were accused of war crimes.

Mr. Spencer and top military leaders had sought to punish the three, arguing that leniency would affect morale, harm American troops in the field and undermine discipline. But the men were lionized by conservative commentators who portrayed them as war heroes unfairly prosecuted for actions taken in the heat of battle.

Mr. Spencer threatened to resign, and Mr. Trump and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper took him up on the offer. The case dominated headlines in the days before Mr. Bloomberg began campaigning, and he addressed the blowup in his opening public remarks as a candidate at an event in Norfolk. Mr. Bloomberg derided Mr. Trump as a lawless leader and quoted Mr. Spencer’s resignation letter.

“I salute Secretary Spencer for not flinching from his duties,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. “But the fact remains, we have a president, a commander in chief, who has no respect for the rule of law and no concern whatsoever for ethics or honor, or for the values that truly make America great.”

For his part, Chief Gallagher traveled in December to Mar-a-Lago, the president’s resort in Florida, to personally thank Mr. Trump for his help, and officials close to the president have said that they want the commando to campaign alongside Mr. Trump this year.

If that happens, Mr. Spencer could have an opportunity to make a powerful counterpoint.

Bloomberg aides said the former mayor would present a plan on Friday in Norfolk that would seek to protect military families from the threat of deportation and provide service members with a fast track to naturalization for green card holders serving in the military.

If elected, Mr. Bloomberg also would reverse Mr. Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military and would eliminate co-pays for preventive health care services for veterans.

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