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Mark Green withdraws as Trump’s Army secretary nominee, citing ‘false and misleading attacks’

Mark Green, a Tennessee state lawmaker and Iraq War veteran, made the announcement on May 5. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

The Trump administration’s second Army secretary nominee withdrew from consideration Friday amid mounting opposition to past comments he made about Islam, evolution and gender issues.

Mark E. Green, a firebrand Republican state senator in Tennessee and veteran of the Iraq War, said there can be no distractions in overseeing the military and blamed “false and misleading attacks against him” in a statement provided to the media. The Pentagon and the White House had no immediate reaction to his announcement, but it came hours after a Defense Department spokesman declined during a meeting with journalists to say whether Defense Secretary Jim Mattis still supported him for the job.

An official familiar with the thinking of the Pentagon chief said Friday night that he was troubled by details that emerged about Green in the last few days. The news reports played a role in Green’s withdrawal, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

No Pentagon news release is expected on the decision, the official said. The Defense Department left it to Green to disclose his decision.

Green pulled out after a month of calls for the Trump administration to choose someone else. 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.

LGBT advocates launch effort to block Trump’s ‘appalling’ Army secretary nominee

Green, a physician who once served 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 last fall that if psychiatrists were polled, they would say that “transgender is a disease.” He added that while most millennials accept 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’ve got to 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 that “we will not tolerate” teaching the “pillars of Islam” in textbooks. At 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.”

Green’s withdrawal marks the latest chapter in the White House’s ongoing turmoil as it tries to fill senior civilian positions at the Pentagon. He was selected after President Trump’s first Army secretary 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 difficulties similar to Viola’s. No replacement has been named. The Air Force appears to be on the brink of having a secretary, with Heather A. Wilson, a former Air Force officer and congresswoman, expected to get a confirmation vote within a week.

Several U.S. senators this week signaled opposition to Green becoming Army secretary, including Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Charles E. 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 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 Trump and a “failure to be a president for all Americans.”