EXCLUSIVE: Schumer Opposes Trump Army Secretary Pick

New York Senator Chuck Schumer addressing the New York dinner of the Human Rights Campaign earlier this year. | JEFFREY HOLMES/ HRC

Senator Chuck Schumer addressing the New York dinner of the Human Rights Campaign earlier this year. | JEFFREY HOLMES/ HRC

Characterizing President Donald Trump’s nomination of Tennessee State Senator Mark Green as a test of whether he is “serious about his pledge to be a president for all Americans,” New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, is calling on Trump to “abandon” the nomination while pledging to oppose it should it come up for a vote.

“Mr. Green’s intolerant, extreme, and deeply disturbing views, and disparaging comments toward the LGBTQ community, Muslims, Latinos, and other groups of Americans – all of whom play important roles in the Army and in our country – are dangerous to morale, cohesion, and readiness of our Armed Services and the fabric of America,” Schumer said in a statement provided exclusively to Gay City News. “A man who was the lead sponsor of legislation to make it easier for businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community; opposes gay marriage, which is the law of the land; believes being transgender is a ‘disease;’ supports constricting access to legal contraception; and makes deeply troubling comments about Muslims is the wrong choice to lead America’s Army.”

While noting Green’s record of service – he is a West Point graduate who spent 20 years in an active military role – Schumer argued that his nomination is at odds with “important progress creating a more equal and tolerant Armed Forces” made by the nation which “makes us stronger; and supports the recruitment we need to sustain the all-volunteer force that is the strongest and most capable fighting force in the world.”

In a press call last month, Stephen Peters, the press secretary of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and a former service member discharged under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy, termed Green’s nomination “shocking” and “appalling,” describing the Tennessee state senator as “one of the most anti-LGBT politicians in the nation.”

Peters, who said his husband is currently an active duty service member, warned that Green as Army secretary “would send an incredibly dangerous message down the line of command. He cannot be trusted to lead the Army forward.”

Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), a support group for partners, families, and allies of LGBTQ service members and veterans, said, “At a time of unrest around the world, all service members should have the confidence they have the full support” of the nation’s leaders.

If confirmed, Green would succeed Eric Fanning, the first out gay Army secretary, who assumed that post in the last year of the Obama administration.

Tennessee State Senator Mark Green, a stridently anti-gay Republican nominated last week to be Army secretary. | MARKGREEN4TN.COM

Tennessee State Senator Mark Green, a stridently anti-gay Republican nominated to be Army secretary. | MARKGREEN4TN.COM

In remarks last fall to a Chattanooga Tea Party gathering, Green said, “If you poll the psychiatrists, they’re going to tell you that transgender is a disease. It is a part of the DSM-6, I think it is, the book of diagnostic psychological procedures or diagnoses.”

That assertion is not true. In 2011, the American Psychiatric Association removed “gender identity disorder” from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Green went on to tell the Tea Party group, “But you ask about how we fix it — how we get the toothpaste back in the tube — I gotta tell you, it’s going to start with me being the salt and the light to the people around me. I mean, if you really want to bring this back to who’s at fault, we got to look a little bit inwardly. We’ve tolerated immorality. And we’re reflecting light.”

At the same gathering, Green also talked about his support for public officials in Tennessee ignoring the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry. In February of this year, he signed on as a “prime co-sponsor” of legislation that would make it state policy “to defend natural marriage between one man and one woman regardless of any court decision to the contrary.”

Last year, he pushed for a law that would bar the state and localities from penalizing any business — such as in the awarding of contracts — for any of their personnel or benefits policies, such as denying same-sex spouses insurance coverage customarily available to spouses.

Among other comments at the Chattanooga Tea Party meeting, Green agreed that Americans should “take a stand on the indoctrination of Islam in our public schools.”

In the wake of the early criticism from advocates such as HRC, Green sought to distance himself from his controversial politics, telling the Army Times in a written statement, “I was nominated by President Trump to do one job: serve as his secretary of the Army. If confirmed, I will solely focus on making recommendations to him on how to keep our country safe and secure. Politics will have nothing to do with it.”

Schumer’s statement about Green comes one day after Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee that will hold hearings on the nomination, told USA Today that the Tennessee state senator’s comments about LGBTQ and Muslim Americans are “very concerning.”

“There’s a lot of controversy concerning his nomination,” McCain told the newspaper. “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.”

No date has been set for McCain’s committee to take up the Green nomination, but should the Arizona Republican oppose it, that would undoubtedly be fatal to his chances.

Schumer, as leader of the Democrats, has a taller order before him. Changes to the Senate’s filibuster rules in recent years allows presidential nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. Democrats, who number 48, then, would need to remain united in opposition and pull over at least three GOP senators, as well, to block Green’s confirmation.

HRC and other LGBTQ advocates have stepped up their opposition to Green this week, noting that “pressure” is “mounting” for Trump to cut Green loose.

The announcement by Schumer comes just one day before Trump is expected to announce an executive order that HRC, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other groups fear will give a wide array of religiously affiliated and even privately held businesses “a sweeping license to discriminate” based on assertions of religious opposition to LGBTQ people, same-sex marriage, reproductive freedom, and sex and child-bearing outside of marriage.

Trump has nominated Heather Wilson, a former Republican member of Congress who also has a long anti-LGBTQ record, as Air Force secretary. The relative silence about her nomination by progressive organizations speaks to the enormity of challenges Trump’s rise to the White House has posed for defenders of LGBTQ and other civil rights.