Trump To Pick Patrick Shanahan To Be Secretary Of Defense

Patrick Shanahan, who has been serving as Acting Defense Secretary since James Mattis left in December, is being selected to replace Mattis in that position.

Bloomberg News is reporting that President Trump will select Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who took over that position after General James Mattis resigned at the end of 2018 over policy disputes with the President, to become the next Secretary of Defense:

President Donald Trump plans to nominate Patrick Shanahan, his acting Pentagon chief and a former Boeing Co. executive, as defense secretary to succeed the taciturn Jim Mattis, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Shanahan, 56, has been acting defense secretary since Mattis quit in December over Trump’s abrupt announcement that he was withdrawing all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. He’s proven his loyalty, backing Trump’s efforts to tap Pentagon funding for a border wall over bipartisan congressional opposition and working to scale back American forces in Syria.

When Shanahan 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.

In an interview in February, Shanahan brushed aside criticism that he was auditioning for the role of defense secretary through his vocal enthusiasm for the president’s initiatives, saying the approach could be summed up by the acronym GSD — “get stuff done.”

“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.”

In December, Trump praised Shanahan in a tweet, saying he had a “long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing.”

Shanahan, an engineer by training, rose to senior vice president at Chicago-based Boeing. He had 30 years of experience at the company across its key military, space and commercial aviation businesses but made his mark in 2007, when he was assigned to help fix cascading development issues that had left the 787 Dreamliner years behind schedule.

He has recused himself from decisions on Boeing contracts, and on April 25 was cleared by the Pentagon’s inspector general of allegations by an advocacy group that he had showed favoritism toward his former employer.


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 was widely seen as a moderating force against Trump’s hostility toward traditional American alliances and overseas military commitments.

The announcement of 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.”

The New York Times reports the same thing:

WASHINGTON — President Trump will nominate Patrick Shanahan as his second defense secretary on Thursday, trying to cement the acting Pentagon chief against an expected uphill battle with lawmakers and Defense Department officials skeptical of him, White House officials said.

The announcement, in a tweet from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, followed a monthlong Pentagon ethics investigation that found that Mr. Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, had not acted improperly in official meetings when discussing military contractors.

But his nomination will most likely fuel criticism among lawmakers and Defense Department officials who believe he does not have enough foreign policy experience to run the largest bureaucracy in the American government, one that oversees national security issues across the world.

Until December, Mr. Shanahan was a little-known Pentagon official who had previously worked at Boeing for 30 years and had served as the deputy defense secretary since the start of the Trump administration. That changed when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stepped down in protest of Mr. Trump’s policies — including the president’s surprise announcement that American troops would withdraw from Syria.

By contrast, Mr. Shanahan has held the line for Mr. Trump.

As the deputy defense secretary, Mr. Shanahan made clear that “we are not the Department of No,” as he told officials after the Trump administration announced plans to create a stand-alone Space Force at the Pentagon. It has since been moved to the oversight of the Air Force.

Mr. Shanahan has also steadfastly supported Mr. Trump’s policy to build a wall along the Mexican border, as well as the continued deployment of thousands of American troops there.

In February, Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he believed Mr. Shanahan did not have the “humility” of Mr. Mattis, but he did not elaborate. But in an April 17 interview with Foreign Policy magazine, Mr. Inhofe said he would welcome Mr. Shanahan’s nomination after the Pentagon’s ethics investigation had concluded.

Senators have also pressed Mr. Shanahan to explain Mr. Trump’s move to take billions of dollars from the Defense Department for a border wall, as well as the Pentagon’s decision to push for weaker standards on chemicals in drinking water.

The Pentagon’s proposed $718 billion budget for the 2020 fiscal year is geared toward combating threats from Russia and China and modernizing a military that has long focused on counterinsurgency conflicts.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the news in a Tweet:

According to his Wikipedia page, Patrick Shanahan is a former top Boeing Executive who had started with the company in 1986 and risen up the ranks to the point where he became a Senior Vice-President and a member of the Boeing Executive Council. In March of 2017, he was nominated by President Trump for the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense, the second-highest civilian position in the Defense Department. Although he ran into some trouble during his confirmation hearing when the late Senator John McCain objected to his response to questions about arming the Ukrainian government in response to Russian activity in the eastern part of Ukraine, Shanahan was ultimately overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate in July 2017. He does not appear to have served in the military, but that isn’t unusual for Secretaries of Defense in recent years. As noted, since taking office as Acting Defense Secretary, Shanahan has recused himself from all decisions dealing with Boeing and Boeing contracts.

While there appears to be little question that, by virtue of his experience at Boeing, Shanahan is well prepared when it comes to the important issue of military procurement, there have been some questions since he took over Mattis’s position regarding whether he has sufficient experience regarding the other major parts of the Defense Department’s mission. Despite that, though, the fact that Shanahan has been a Trump loyalist in a way that Mattis was not is no doubt a major point in his favor and one of the main reasons that the President decided to elevate him. How good a military adviser he actually is, though, is apparently a secondary consideration. In any case, given the reality in the Senate Shanahan will likely have an easy path to confirmation.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Military Affairs, National Security, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Kathy says:

    I hope in his confirmation hearings someone asks him what he knew of the baked-in defect in the 737 MAX family.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Not qualified, but he’ll be confirmed unless there is a skeleton.

  3. Jax says:

    He looks like he hasn’t been sleeping well. Are we sure he’s not a sleeper agent for the zombie invasion?

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Truthfully, sounds like more Trump Trash…

  5. CSK says:

    Only qualification necessary: total loyalty to Trump.

  6. Gustopher says:

    I’m a little surprised Trump is nominating anyone.

    Does this mean that our assorted acting cabinet secretaries aren’t part of a plan to avoid congressional advice and concentrate? I had assumed it was just another instance of Trump ignoring norms and precedents.

  7. CSK says:

    @Gustopher: Yeah, I’m a little surprised, too. Trump has said he likes the “flexibility” and “lack of oversight” in having only acting secretaries.

  8. Slugger says:

    By now my default assumption about anyone taking a high profile job in this administration is that they are a sycophant first, last, and foremost. This attitude on my part is a prejudice that may be unfair to some, but you can’t control all emotions.