WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s first choice to lead the Army dropped out, citing business conflicts, and his second choice isn’t faring much better.
Mark Green, a Tennessee state senator and former flight surgeon, is facing strong opposition from civil rights groups, which cite his anti-LGBT legislative record, and Muslim-American groups, which are alarmed by comments they say are Islamophobic.
The fight over Green comes two months after Trump’s original pick, Vincent Viola, a New York billionaire and owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team, withdrew, citing difficulty disentangling from his businesses.
Green, a West Point graduate who wrote a book about the night he spent with Saddam Hussein after U.S. troops captured the Iraqi dictator, was elected to the Tennessee state Senate in 2012 and recently had plans to run for governor. That background left him with a legislative record that drew immediate fire from LGBT advocates.
“Green has made a shameful political career out of targeting LGBT people for discrimination,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, the president of the American Military Partner Association, which supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members, said in a statement. “All soldiers and their families, including those who are LGBT, should have confidence that the secretary of the Army has their back and is working for their best interest.”
The group noted that the person Green would be replacing, Obama appointee Eric Fanning, was the first openly gay Army secretary.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Tennessee’s junior U.S. senator, Republican Bob Corker, have endorsed Green’s appointment.
“He is respected in both the military and business communities, and I know the people of Tennessee State Senate District 22 have greatly valued his leadership and dedication over the past four years,” Corker said in a statement.
Lawmakers from both parties have been relatively quiet on Green’s nomination, however, and his confirmation hearing isn’t expected to be scheduled until mid- or late May. The gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign and others said they had started reaching out to Congress to voice their opposition.
Gay rights advocates say Green has a history of supporting and sponsoring legislation that discriminates against LGBT people and their families. They note that Green said last year that “transgender is a disease” in a speech to the Chattanooga Tea Party and blasted then-President Barack Obama’s push to require public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. He has also sponsored legislation barring cities from taking “discriminatory action” against businesses that discriminate against LGBT people.
Iraq War veteran Steve Dunwoody told McClatchy that Green’s nomination is part of a pattern of appointments “that are really a slap in the face to the very people they are supposed to be leading.”
“It sends a signal to those who are currently LGBT in the military that they are not welcome in some regard,” said Dunwoody, who is a senior adviser to VoteVets, a liberal veterans advocacy group. “This will undoubtedly lower morale for troops that are serving, not only those who are LGBT but other people who are supportive of the efforts to expand opportunity in the military, and open the door for others to mimic some of those discriminatory opinions.”
If Green’s nomination goes through, Mattis will have to “answer for what kind of message this sends down the chain of command about how seriously he takes issues of discrimination,” Dunwoody said.
“We’ve made significant progress on the status of LGBT members of the military in every regard,” he said. “So I think this appointment is a step backwards in the other direction.”
Mattis has praised Green’s nomination, saying he “will provide strong civilian leadership, improve military readiness and support our service members, civilians and their families.”
As an Army physician, Green served three combat tours in the Middle East. During his military career he earned the Combat Medical Badge, the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He served as a special operations flight surgeon during Operation Red Dawn, which captured Saddam in 2003. He was the first person to interrogate the Iraqi leader, and later wrote a book about his experience titled “A Night With Saddam.”
The Obama administration lifted the ban on openly transgender people serving in the military last June, and in 2010 had repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military restriction on openly gay members in the armed services.
Green’s nomination is also opposed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, because of comments he made in the same 2016 speech, referring to a “Muslim horde” and the “assault of Islam” in speaking about how the history of the Ottoman Empire should be the only thing about the religion taught in schools. The council also emphasized that Green said it was a “great question” when an audience member at the meeting said he was worried about people that “don’t belong here, like Muslims in the United States.”
Robert McCaw, the group’s government affairs director, pointed out that Green’s speech had been posted to the internet by supporters who clearly approved of his comments.
“This is an administration that is trying to appoint officials that have anti-Muslim, anti-minority positions and the record of their hate speech is documented by their political supporters for us,” he told McClatchy. “They are proud of their hateful rhetoric … because Mark Green stands behind his Islamophobic and anti-LGBT comments he is unfit to lead a modern and diverse Army.
“If senators vote to confirm Green they’re endorsing his anti-Muslim statements, and they cannot escape that,” McCaw said.
Trump’s choice to lead the Navy, Philip Bilden, a former private-equity investor in Asia, also dropped out because of business conflicts. The president’s pick for Air Force secretary, former New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson, is the only service secretary nominee who has made it to a Senate confirmation hearing.
Green did not respond to a request for comment.