President Trump continues to have difficulty getting his controversial choices to head the major branches of the American military through the confirmation process, leaving the Army, Navy and Air Force lacking permanent leadership even as the administration pours billions more into building up the national defense.
Today, for the second time, Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Army withdrew from consideration. Tennessee state Senator Mark Green dropped out after enduring widespread criticism due to his appalling views on LGBT people, Islam, Hispanics, the Second Amendment, and evolution.
In a statement today, Green said he was giving up the fight because “there should be no distractions. And unfortunately, due to false and misleading attacks against me, this nomination has become a distraction.”
Trump’s first pick to head the Army, Vincent Viola, dropped out over potential business conflicts.
Trump’s pick for Secretary of the Navy, financier Philip Bilden, has also dropped out because of conflicts of interest; his nomination to head the Air Force, Heather Wilson, has been hung up for weeks over questions about her suitability. She is now scheduled for a Senate confirmation vote on Monday.
Trump has been looking for a Secretary of the Army to work under his Defense Secretary, General James Mattis, since his inauguration in January when he forced out President Obama’s Army Secretary, Eric Fanning, the first openly gay person to head a branch of the U.S. military.
Robert Speer has served as Acting Secretary of the Army since late January.
Green was first nominated on April 7, and it seemed like he might be qualified at first. Green, a graduate of West Point, is a former career soldier and Army Ranger who famously interviewed Saddam Hussein in 2003 after he was captured. He also has a medical degree, and since leaving the Army had been in the Tennessee Senate.
It was Green’s views in Tennessee that quickly raised serious objections about whether he was the right person to lead the modern Army. As a Senator, Green advocated for a law that would have circumvented local laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He has also been a vocal critic of rules allowing transgender people to use the public restroom of their choice. He once claimed that transgender people are “diseased” and he also questions whether evolution is based on sound science.
Critics also charge his record is anti-women and anti-Muslim.
Nearly three dozen Democratic legislators have called on Green to withdraw, and John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, had said he was concerned about the nomination and wanted to hold a hearing to clear up issues surrounding his record.
McCain has also said he is concerned about the “snail’s pace” of high-level Pentagon appointments at a time there is concern about the military’s readiness.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tx), who heads the House Armed Services Committee, has also been critical of the Trump administration’s slow pace in staffing the Pentagon. None of the positions immediately under Mattis have been filled yet.
Mattis “cannot do everything single-handedly,” said Thornberry, “and there are several crises in the world he has to manage.”
Whether this will force Trump to finally choose someone in tune with the modern military, where gays and transgender people are able to serve, and a diverse force from all walks of American life must work together, remains unclear.
The one sure thing is that Trump’s stubbornness in choosing people for their political background, as well as their other qualifications, is not working, like much of what he has done since becoming president.