WASHINGTON – Republican Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that Army secretary nominee Mark Green’s past comments about gays and lesbians and Muslims are “very concerning” and that Green must explain himself to the committee.
“There’s a lot of controversy concerning his nomination,” McCain, whose committee will be responsible for holding Green’s confirmation hearing, said in a brief 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.”
Asked whether he was bothered about Green’s remarks, McCain said, “Of course. Some of the comments that have been attributed to him obviously are very concerning.”
Asked which comments he found troubling, McCain said, “a broad variety — concerning the Muslim faith, concerning the LGBT community, other issues according to the comments he has made in the past.”
No date has been set for Green’s confirmation hearing, McCain said, because his nomination hasn’t yet been formally submitted to the committee. “But when his nomination is (formally) submitted, we will give him an opportunity to respond to these questions that have been raised,” McCain said.
Meanwhile, a political adviser to Green denied a CNN report that his nomination was in jeopardy and that he might withdraw as soon as this week.
“It’s absolutely untrue,” said Darren Morris, who was the campaign manager for Green’s now-suspended campaign for governor of Tennessee.
Morris called the report “wishful thinking” by groups opposed to Green and said Green is in Washington this week meeting with senators and preparing for his confirmation hearing.
Green, an Iraq war veteran and West Point graduate who was deployed three times overseas, has come under fire from numerous advocacy groups since President Trump announced last month he would nominate him to be Army secretary.
Green, who was the first person to interrogate Saddam Hussein following the former Iraqi dictator’s capture, currently is a Republican state senator from Tennessee whose conservative philosophy lines up closely with the Tea Party.
Multiple LGBT groups have denounced Green’s nomination, calling him “a social issues warrior” who has worked to undermine LGBT rights at every turn. One of the groups, GLAAD, has 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.”
Others have 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.
In addition to his record on LGBT issues, Green is facing opposition from a couple 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.”
Last week, nearly three dozen House 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 top 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 announced last week they oppose Green’s nomination, citing his history “of extreme statements and actions” which they said pose a “serious threat” to the military’s core values.
Besides McCain, at least three other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee also have raised concerns about Green’s past comments.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said Tuesday he is just beginning to examine Green’s record. But, “I have some issues that are of concern,” he said.
Asked to elaborate, King said, “I don’t want to be specific. But I have some concerns, and I will try to follow up.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she has heard of Green’s past comments and plans to review his background before his confirmation hearing. Asked if she found his statements troubling, she said, “Of course. That’s why I want to look at it.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has “serious concerns about Mark Green, particularly his deeply troubling record of supporting policies that are discriminatory against the LGBTQ community,” said the senator’s spokesman, Marc Brumer. “She will look to hear these concerns addressed during his confirmation hearings.”
Green has declined to discuss the criticism with reporters. But in a Facebook post last week, Green blasted his critics for "cutting and splicing my words to paint me as a hater." He wrote that every American has a right to defend his or her country and that he has never considered himself anyone’s judge.
Morris, Green’s political adviser, acknowledged the resistance that pro-LGBT and Muslim advocates have put up since his nomination.
“It’s going to be a tough nomination fight because the first impression too many senators have is the misleading and false attacks against Dr. Green rather than who he really is and the outstanding qualities he brings to the job,” Morris said. “But he will overcome that and be confirmed."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a member of the Armed Services Committee, declined to discuss Green’s background but said, “I am certain the committee will fairly carefully consider each of the nominees before it.”
Contributing: Reporter Jake Lowary in Nashville.