Trump to Pick Loyalist Patrick Shanahan as Defense Secretary

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump plans to nominate Patrick Shanahan, his acting Pentagon chief and a former Boeing Co. executive, as defense secretary to succeed Jim Mattis, who quit in December.

“Based upon his outstanding service to the Country and his demonstrated ability to lead, President Trump intends to nominate Patrick M. Shanahan to be the Secretary of Defense,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Thursday in a statement on Twitter.

The move should help bring greater stability to Trump’s national security team, which lacks Senate-confirmed leaders at the Pentagon and United Nations. Sanders cited Shanahan’s leadership in recent months -- he’s the longest-serving acting Pentagon chief in history -- as evidence that he’s “beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defense, and he will continue to do an excellent job.”

Shanahan, 56, has been acting defense secretary since Mattis stepped down over Trump’s abrupt announcement that he was withdrawing all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. He’s since proven his loyalty, backing the president’s efforts to tap Pentagon funding for a border wall over bipartisan congressional opposition and working to scale back, though not eliminate, American forces in Syria.

Trump to Pick Loyalist Patrick Shanahan as Defense Secretary

When Shanahan first assumed command of American armed forces as acting secretary, he said in a statement that he looked “forward to working with President Trump to carry out his vision alongside strong leaders.” And when Trump disparaged Mattis at a cabinet meeting in early January -- scoffing “what’s he done for me?” -- Shanahan was at the president’s side.

As Pentagon chief, Shanahan will oversee the implementation of a more than $700 billion budget, ongoing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq and the creation of an entirely new Space Force championed by Trump. He’ll also carry out the National Defense Strategy’s focus on potential “great power” conflict, which involves a shift toward confronting Russia and China over a previous emphasis on counterterrorism.

“You have to spin a lot of plates” in the job, Shanahan told reporters Thursday, citing responsibilities ranging from world events to defense strategy and management.

Shanahan was seen at the White House earlier in the day on Thursday. In a statement after the announcement, he said “If confirmed by the Senate, I will continue the aggressive implementation of our National 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."

One Republican congressional aide said Shanahan will likely get confirmed, but that process could be contentious, partly because of his support for shifting Pentagon funds to help pay for Trump’s border wall.

He’ll also have to answer pointed questions about his ability to lead the department while simultaneously recusing himself from issues involving Boeing, the Pentagon’s No. 2 contractor, where he rose to the level of vice president during a 30-year career.

During that time, Shanahan gained experience in the Chicago-based company’s key military, space and commercial aviation businesses. He made his mark in 2007, when he was assigned to help fix cascading development issues that had left the 787 Dreamliner years behind schedule.

But that Boeing background may have slowed Trump’s decision to nominate Shanahan earlier this year after an ethics investigation was opened by the Pentagon’s inspector general. On April 25 he was cleared by the watchdog of allegations by an advocacy group that he had showed favoritism toward his former employer.

Rejected Allegations

“We determined that Mr. Shanahan fully complied with his ethics agreements and his ethical obligations regarding Boeing and its competitors,” the inspector general wrote in a 36-page report. The report rejected allegations that he offered praise of Boeing and put-downs of rival Lockheed Martin Corp. as well as concern about the appearances raised by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

Republican James Inhofe, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the nomination after earlier this year signaling impatience with the White House’s delay in filling the post.

“We need a confirmed leader at the Department and, after working with him closely over the last few months, I welcome his selection,” the Oklahoma senator said.

While acknowledging that the inspector general’s report cleared him of wrongdoing, Senator Jack Reed, the panel’s top Democrat, said in a statement at the time that the report “also shows the wide swath of national security matters that Acting Secretary Shanahan is barred from, which strikes me as something the Senate needs to consider.”

‘Getting Stuff Done’

In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year, Shanahan rejected accusations he’s been auditioning for the top job.

“Let’s not worry about whether he’s a ‘yes man’ or a ‘no man’ but whether he’s a ‘can-do’ man,” Shanahan said of himself. “I just spend all my time getting stuff done.”

Unlike Mattis -- whom Trump described as one of “my generals” -- Shanahan never served in the military. But defense secretaries generally have come to the job from civilian life. Most recently, Ashton Carter, who was defense secretary under President Barack Obama, was never in the military, although he had a lengthy resume in civilian defense posts and related academic positions.

Mattis, an original member of Trump’s cabinet, was widely seen as a moderating force against Trump’s hostility toward traditional American alliances and overseas military commitments. His departure stunned congressional leaders of both parties, many of whom had openly criticized Trump’s reversal of longstanding policy on Syria.

While Trump’s initial Syria announcement in December drew bipartisan criticism and protests from allies, Shanahan said in the interview that decision-making among the president’s top aides has been exceptionally smooth and “effortless,” citing his working relationship with cabinet counterparts including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

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