Trump will nominate Patrick Shanahan for defense secretary
President Trump will nominate Patrick Shanahan to be secretary of Defense, choosing a former aerospace executive who has run the Pentagon in an acting capacity since December, the White House said Thursday.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, announced the plan in a tweet, saying Shanahan “has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense, and he will continue to do an excellent job.”
Shanahan has been more supportive of Trump’s priorities than James N. Mattis, who resigned as Pentagon chief late last year, telling Trump he needed someone “whose views are better aligned with yours.”
Shanahan has little experience with the military or as a strategic thinker on national security affairs, which could prove a hurdle in winning Senate confirmation.
If confirmed, he would be the first Defense secretary since Robert McNamara, who headed the Pentagon more than five decades ago, who came out of the business world, had not served in Congress and had little experience in government.
Unlike McNamara, who was secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Shanahan never served in the military.
If confirmed he would continue to oversee the federal government’s largest department at a time when U.S. forces are heavily engaged, both overseas and along the U.S.-Mexican border. Many of Trump’s top national security goals in Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela and North Korea remain unachieved.
Trump has repeatedly praised Shanahan’s tenure as acting Pentagon chief, widely viewed as an audition. But the president delayed the nomination while he considered other candidates with more government experience.
In a statement, Shanahan said that if he is confirmed, he will “continue the aggressive implementation” of the administration’s defense strategy. “I remain committed to modernizing the force so our remarkable soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have everything they need to keep our military lethal and our country safe,” he added.
The five-month delay in picking Mattis’ successor appeared to reflect Trump’s fondness for a Cabinet filled, in part, with acting secretaries who might be more beholden to him than after winning confirmation.
Shanahan, a mechanical engineer who joined the administration as the Pentagon’s deputy secretary, spent more than 30 years at Boeing Co., where he led programs for commercial planes and Pentagon-funded missile defense systems.
Democrats are likely to scrutinize his sparse resume during confirmation hearings. Even some Republicans voiced doubts about his qualifications after a rocky appearance in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will consider his nomination.
But Shanahan won Trump over by his willingness to back White House priorities, a sharp contrast with Mattis, who often slow-rolled Trump’s pronouncements and tweets when it came to transgender soldiers, the NATO military alliance, a withdrawal from Syria and deployments along the border.
Shanahan has led the administration’s proposals to develop a separate military service for fighting in space, impressing Trump.
By backing Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the border, Shanahan freed as much as $3.6 billion in funds appropriated by Congress for military construction and counter-drug interdiction programs. The money is now available for construction or repairs of the border wall.
Shanahan has few qualms about using Pentagon funds along the border, telling his aides that he is intent on supporting Trump’s agenda.
But he also has moved slowly in shifting military construction funds to the wall, not wanting to anger lawmakers from both parties who oppose the move and could oppose his nomination.
His nomination has also been delayed while the Pentagon inspector general reviewed allegations that he violated an ethics agreement requiring him to recuse himself from decisions involving Boeing.
The inspector general’s office cleared Shanahan of those allegations in March, although it did find he “routinely” mentioned Boeing in meetings with other Pentagon officials.