Shanahan Likely Will Be Trump's Defense Nominee, Inhofe Says

(Bloomberg) -- Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will likely be President Donald Trump’s nominee for defense secretary, Senate Armed Services Chairman James Inhofe said.

“I think he will,” Inhofe said in an interview Thursday when asked about the likelihood of Shanahan getting the nomination. “Indications are now that it’s going to be him.”

Inhofe’s comments were a shift from last month, when he signaled impatience with Shanahan’s continuing status as acting secretary. The former Boeing Co. executive assumed the position on Dec. 31 after serving as deputy secretary to former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis.

“My speculation at that time was if they are sitting around without making any changes and the guy’s ‘acting,’ then that’s an indication they are looking for someone else,” Inhofe said on Thursday. Given that Shanahan is already the Pentagon’s longest-serving acting secretary, Inhofe repeated his view that the nomination and confirmation process “should have taken place a long time ago.”

One issue possibly holding up a nomination is that the Pentagon’s inspector general continues to review allegations made by a watchdog group that Shanahan inappropriately voiced support for Boeing and may have some role in the Air Force’s request in the fiscal 2020 budget for new Boeing F-15X fighter jets. That accusation was based partly on two reports published by Politico and Bloomberg Government.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that Shanahan “did not direct us” to add the F-15X request.

Inhofe said Thursday he’d still like to see the inspector general reach a conclusion quickly because while the ‘acting’ title means Shanahan “can perform all the functions” of the office, “that’s not what it means overseas,” where officials might see him as not having the president’s full support.

The committee has a longstanding history of not proceeding with nominations which “are under a current investigation until that investigation is completed and they have access to the conclusions,” said Arnold Punaro, a former armed services committee staff director and retired Marine Corps officer.

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