Trump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight

Trump’s Army pick faces tough confirmation fight
© Courtesy of Mark Green

President Trump is facing a tough confirmation battle in the Senate over Mark Green, his nominee for Army secretary.

Liberal groups are firing up opposition to Green, who has said that “transgender is a disease” and that “armed citizens” should fight against efforts to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

The remarks could make supporting Green tough for centrist Democrats and Republicans alike.

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David Stacy, government affairs director at the Human Rights Campaign, said Trump “couldn’t have picked a worse nominee to pick a fight with Congress.” His group started outreach to Capitol Hill on Friday afternoon and has heard a “high degree of concern” from Democrats and moderate Republicans.

The White House announced late Friday that Trump intends to nominate Green, a Tennessee state senator since 2013, to be the Army’s top civilian leader.

“Nobody’s committing their boss on a yes or no vote this early,” Stacy added in a Monday conference call with reporters. “The degree of engagement has been very high because of obvious things in his record.”

For now, moderate senators are reluctant to comment on the fresh nomination, even as LGBT groups are already ramping up pressure to vote against Green.

Spokesmen for Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators look for possible way to end shutdown GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-Ohio), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (D-W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks 2020 Election: Democrats can’t afford to ignore their Israel problem Hirono will donate salary earned during government shutdown MORE (D-N.D.) declined to comment.

Spokespeople for Republican Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senators look for possible way to end shutdown MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators look for possible way to end shutdown Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight McConnell: Senate will not recess if government still shutdown MORE (Alaska) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (Nevada) and for Democratic Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Senate approves funding bill, preventing partial government shutdown MORE (Ind.) did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Manchin, Heitkamp, Heller and Donnelly all face reelection in 2018 in states Trump won in the presidential election.

Republicans have generally united behind Trump’s nominees.

Portman and Heller have both voted for all of Trump’s nominees so far, while Collins has voted against two and Murkowski against one.

Democrats have opposed many of Trump’s nominees en masse, and there has been pressure on centrist Democrats to toe the party line.

Donnelly has voted against seven of Trump’s nominees, while Heitkamp has voted against six nominees and Manchin against three.

Heitkamp and Manchin both backed Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s recently confirmed nominee for the Supreme Court.

Green must first make it past the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is split between 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Donnelly is on the committee, and his vote could be key.

Complicating the fight is Green’s impressive Army record, which includes being the first person to interrogate former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after he was captured.

Green’s nomination is also notable because of the official he would succeed: Eric Fanning, the first openly gay service secretary.

Fanning’s appointment was one of many milestones the LGBT community hailed during the Obama administration. “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” which barred gay troops from serving openly, was repealed by Congress in 2010. And last summer, the Obama administration lifted the ban on transgender troops serving openly.

LGBT troops and their advocates were concerned immediately after the election that the Trump administration would roll back those changes. Their fears were assuaged during Defense Secretary James Mattis’s confirmation hearing, when he said he had no plans to do so.

Still, Mattis left the door open to changes if a service chief presents him with evidence the policies are having negative effects.

In the days since Green’s nomination, advocates have said that even if policies aren’t reversed, having someone with his record at the top of the Army sends the wrong message. Further, they said, Green could take steps to undermine the policies in the Army.

As a Tennessee state senator, Green has made numerous anti-LGBT statements and supported a number of anti-LGBT bills.

For example, in a speech at the Chattanooga Tea Party last year, he said that “transgender is a disease” and railed against former President Obama’s efforts to require public schools to let transgender children use the bathroom of their choice.

“We are back to where the country was at its beginning, and it’s the armed citizen who will defend this nation,” Green said. “And there’s something else that we’ve got to protect ourselves from, and it is an overreaching federal government. The notion that Mr. Obama thinks that he can tell the state of Tennessee who can go into a men’s bathroom or a women’s bathroom is absurd.”

In the same speech, he also advocated for “civil disobedience” in response to what a questioner described as the “tyrannical government.” Green used the hypothetical example of the governor of Tennessee denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

His state Senate record also includes supporting a bill that allows therapists to deny treatment to LGBT individuals on religious grounds. And he’s the sponsor of a bill that would prohibit action against a business for its internal personnel and benefits policies so long as those policies are already compliant with state law.

Tennessee law does not specifically bar discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity, and LGBT people say Green’s bill is meant to allow companies to discriminate against them.

LGBT groups are highlighting those examples and are promising to do a deeper dive into his record, including compiling video of his statements.

A spokesman for Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand and Booker play 'How Well Do You Know Your Co-Worker' game amid 2020 speculation O'Rourke blogs from road trip: 'Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk' Julián Castro calls for ‘tuition-free’ public colleges, apprenticeships MORE (D-N.Y.), a member of the Armed Services Committee who has voted against all but three Trump nominees who have come to the Senate floor, said she has “serious concerns” about Green’s record.

“Sen. Gillibrand has serious concerns about Mark Green, particularly his deeply troubling record of supporting policies that are discriminatory against the LGBTQ community,” said spokesman Marc Brumer. “She will look to hear these concerns addressed during his confirmation hearings.”

Supporters of Green, meanwhile, are highlighting his military record.

Green, a 1986 West Point graduate, served as a special operations flight surgeon. In 2003, he was the emergency physician during Operation Red Dawn, which captured Hussein.

He did three combat tours in the Middle East and received awards including the Bronze Star, the Air Medal and the Air Medal with "V" device for valor under heavy enemy fire.

Since ending his 20-year military career in 2006, he’s been involved with several military-focused charities, including Soldiers and Families Embraced and Reboot for Recovery.

Both senators from Green’s home state have given him praise, emphasizing his military record.

“As a West Point graduate and former military officer, Mark Green is well-suited to serve our nation as secretary of the Army,” Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Romney moves stir worries in Trump World Senate GOP names first female members to Judiciary panel Former US special envoy to anti-ISIS coalition joins Stanford University as lecturer MORE (R-Tenn.) said in a statement Friday.

“This is a good opportunity for the rest of the country to benefit from Tennessean Mark Green’s leadership skills, military experience and dedication to service members,” Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMcConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks GOP senators propose bill to pay 'excepted' workers during shutdown MORE (R-Tenn.) said in his own statement Friday.

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, an independent think tank that researches issues of gender and sexuality and has been active on the military’s LGBT policies, said a host of organizations are contacting senators about Green.

“I believe that a range of organization are reaching out to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee to communicate how dangerous Mark Green is,” Belkin said. “I hope that senators would be as strong in their questioning of him as they were in questioning Secretary Mattis and [Air Force Secretary nominee] Heather Wilson.”