The Trump administration’s Army secretary nominee withdrew from consideration Friday, a senior defense official said, amid mounting opposition to past comments he made about Islam, evolution and gender issues.
Mark E. Green, a firebrand Republican state lawmaker in Tennessee and veteran of the Iraq War, blamed “false and misleading attacks against him” in a statement provided to media. The Pentagon and the White House had no immediate reaction to the move, but it came hours after a Defense Department spokesman declined to say whether Defense Secretary Jim Mattis still supported him for the job.
Green pulled out after a month of growing calls for the Trump administration to choose someone else for the job. Advocacy groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people immediately launched an effort on Capitol Hill to block his nomination after it was announced April 7, saying his history of antagonism toward them made him an unacceptable choice.
Green, a physician who once serviced alongside Army Special Operations troops, expressed frustration about the effort in a Facebook post late last month, and did so again Friday in his statement.
“Tragically, my life of public service and my Christian beliefs have been mischaracterized and attacked by a few on the other side of the aisle for political gain,” Green said. “While these false attacks have no bearing on the needs of the Army or my qualifications to serve, I believe it is critical to give the President the ability to move forward with his vision to restore our military to its rightful place in the world.”
Among the comments that drew concern were Green saying that if you polled psychiatrists, they would say that “transgender is a disease.” He added that while most millennials are accepting of transgender people, he wanted to be a “light” that set the record straight.
“If you really want to bring this back to who’s at fault, I mean we gotta look a little bit inwardly,” he said. “I mean, we’ve tolerated immorality and we’re not reflecting light.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations also opposed Green’s nomination, citing an appearance before the Chattanooga Tea Party last fall in which Green said “we will not tolerate” teaching the “pillars of Islam” in textbooks. In that same event, Green responded to a man who said he was concerned about an armed insurrection by people who “don’t belong here, like Muslims in the United States” by saying he’d asked a “great question.”
Several U.S. senators signaled opposition to Green becoming Army secretary this week, including Sens. Joe Donnelly (D.-Ind.), Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) and Tammy Baldwin (D.-Wis.).
Schumer said in a statement that Green’s decision to withdraw is good news for all Americans, “especially those who were personally vilified by his disparaging comments toward the LGBTQ community, Muslim community, Latino community and more.” The senator credited advocacy groups with prompting Green to withdraw, and said that he hopes Trump will select someone else who can represent everyone in the Army.
Republicans had not openly opposed Green’s nomination, but some had suggested that they wanted to hear more about his past views. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in an interview with USA Today this week that some of Green’s comments are “very concerning” and that he would have to explain himself.
“There’s a lot of controversy concerning his nomination,” McCain said in an interview with USA Today. “We are getting some questions from both Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services Committee. I think there are some issues that clearly need to be cleared up.”
Advocacy groups that had opposed Green’s nomination breathed a sigh of relief Friday.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that Green’s “dangerous views and hateful comments are disqualifying for any public servant, let alone someone wishing to serve as secretary of the Army.” The nomination, Griffin added, showed a “lack of judgment” by President Trump and a “failure to be a president for all Americans.”
Green’s withdrawal marks a new note in the White House’s turmoil in filling senior civilian positions in the Pentagon. he was selected after Trump’s first nominee, Vincent Viola, withdrew from consideration in February. Viola, a former Army officer who went on to become a billionaire on Wall Street, cited the complications of getting through the Pentagon’s conflict-of-interest rules.
A nominee for Navy secretary, Philip M. Bilden, also withdrew from consideration in February, facing similar difficulties as Viola.