President Donald Trump’s choice for Army secretary withdrew his nomination Friday after mounting criticism over past statements he made about gays and lesbians, Muslims and other groups.
Mark Green, a Republican Tennessee state senator from Clarksville, pulled his name from consideration in a short statement Friday afternoon that said his nomination had become a distraction “due to false and misleading attacks against me.”
His decision came before confirmation hearings had even started for the West Point graduate and former Army medic — just four weeks after Trump picked him for the post.
"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 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.
"Camie and I look forward to finding other opportunities to use our gifts to serve others and help make America great again."
Green, a physician and Iraq war veteran who was re-elected to the state Senate in November, had halted a previously announced run for governor of Tennessee after Trump tapped him for Army secretary on April 7.
Nomination quick to come under scrutiny
But in short time, he came under fire from advocacy organizations for gays and lesbians and other minority groups over controversial comments he had made in the past. Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced opposition to Green’s nomination this week. And even some Republicans, led by U.S. Sen. John McCain, expressed discomfort with the pick.
“Mark Green’s decision to withdraw his name from consideration as Army secretary is good news for all Americans, especially those who were personally vilified by his disparaging comments directed toward the LGBTQ community, Muslim community, Latino community and more," Schumer said in a statement. "He was the wrong choice to serve as secretary, and should not have been nominated in the first place."
Congressional Republicans from Green's home state focused on praising their fellow Tennessean for his service, rather than directly acknowledging any controversy related to his nomination.
"Mark Green has served his country with distinction," Rep. Marsha Blackburn said in a statement. "He has served his state with honor. I respect his decision to withdraw his nomination and look forward to his continued service in our community."
Sen. Lamar Alexander also said he respected the decision, but expressed some disappointment that Green didn't get the nomination.
"This would have been an opportunity for the Army to benefit from his leadership skills, military experience and dedication to service members," his statement said.
Sen. Bob Corker said he spoke with Green on Friday afternoon to thank him for his willingness to serve and for his commitment to public service.
"Although he has withdrawn from the process, I have no doubt that he will continue to find ways to serve our country and state," Corker's statement read.
Green, a tea party-aligned Republican, is Trump’s second choice for Army secretary to withdraw. Trump’s first pick, Vincent Viola, the billionaire owner of the Florida Panthers, withdrew his nomination in February, citing difficulties in divesting himself from his businesses. Trump then nominated Green for the job in April.
Green would have replaced former Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, appointed by President Obama and the nation's first openly gay service secretary.
Green's next move is unclear, but abandoning his nomination could open the door to relaunch a gubernatorial campaign.
Multiple LGBT groups had denounced Green’s nomination, calling him “a social issues warrior” who as a Tennessee legislator has worked to undermine LGBT rights at every turn. One of the groups, GLAAD, released audio from a radio program in which Green, discussing his sponsorship of a bill that would have forced transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their legal sex rather than their actual gender, said his responsibility as a state senator was to “crush evil.”
"Discrimination and anti-LGBTQ beliefs have no place in our military,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement on Green's withdrawal. “GLAAD’s leaked audio and the outrage from our supporters helped sink Mark Green’s nomination, but we now need to continue to hold the Trump administration accountable by fighting back on every attempt to erase the LGBTQ community from this nation.”
Others had pointed to Green’s sponsorship of legislation that would allow mental health practitioners to refuse to treat LGBT patients and his support for a bill that would effectively bar transgender high school and college students from using public restrooms.
“If you poll the psychiatrists, they're going to tell you transgender is a disease," Green said at a Chattanooga Tea Party event last September.
Muslim groups slammed Green nomination
In addition to his record on LGBT issues, Green had faced opposition from a pair of Muslim groups — Muslim Advocates and the Council on American-Islamic Relations — for comments he has made that the organizations consider derogatory toward the Islamic faith and its followers.
At the Chattanooga event, Green said he doesn’t believe students should learn about Muslim beliefs and religious practices, and claimed erroneously that Muslims don’t believe Jesus “was born from a virgin.”
VoteVets.org, a progressive-leaning veterans organization that opposed Green's nomination, called his withdrawal "a good thing for the Army and for the nation."
"The truth is he had no business being nominated in the first place," the group said in a statement. "His nomination was shameful and a clear demonstration of how little Donald Trump knows about our military and how unfit he is to be Commander in Chief."
Before his withdrawal, Green had started showing discomfort with how he had been characterized nationally, writing on Facebook on April 25 that certain people are "cutting and splicing my words to paint me as a hater."
"The only people I have ever called evil are murderous terrorists trying to kill Americans," he wrote. "The only people I have ever suggested be crushed are the terrorist enemies of our nation."
Some in GOP concerned about Green
But opposition persisted nonetheless, including from some Republicans.
McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which was to conduct Green’s confirmation hearing, called Green's past comments “very concerning” and said he needed to explain himself to the committee. Several other members of the committee said they, too, found Green’s comments disturbing.
In the House, nearly three dozen Democrats sent a letter asking the Senate to reject Green’s nomination, arguing he cannot be trusted to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender soldiers are able to serve without discrimination or harassment.
A Pentagon official under former President Barack Obama and a group of 21 current and former faculty members at military service academies, war colleges and other military universities also came out against Green’s nomination, citing his history “of extreme statements and actions” which they said pose a “serious threat” to the military’s core values.
Green is the second Tennessean to withdraw his nomination for a position in Trump’s administration.
Andrew Puzder, a fast-food magnate who Trump had chosen to lead the Department of Labor, pulled his name from consideration in February amid questions about his personal life, the business practices at some of his restaurants and revelations that he once employed an undocumented housekeeper. Trump later filled the post with Alexander Acosta, whom the Senate confirmed in April.
This week, 11 House Republicans, including the seven GOP House members from Tennessee, signed a letter supporting Green's nomination.
Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said Friday that Green is a "good senator."
"It is unfortunate the liberal left has once again used the politics of personal destruction to prevent a good man from serving in a position for which he was well-suited and well-qualified," McNally said in a statement. "Mark is a good senator and a good man. We look forward to his return to our senate family.”
Green has not been present for committee meetings and floor sessions in the state Senate for weeks. He hadn't formally resigned from the state Senate but had stepped back from day-to-day duties.
Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, who represents the same area as Green and often works on legislation with him, said he's talked with Green while he's been going back and forth to Washington the past few weeks.
"He was being badgered heavily from many of the opponents, which was unjustified in my opinion," Reedy said. “I think we lost the best ally we had as far as the military and what we could have done with him being in D.C. However, he is still a great asset for Tennessee.”
Staff writers Dave Boucher and Jake Lowary contributed to this report.
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.