Politics|Trump to Nominate Patrick Shanahan as Pentagon Chief
WASHINGTON — President Trump will nominate Patrick Shanahan as his second defense secretary, trying to cement the acting Pentagon chief against an expected challenging battle with lawmakers and Defense Department officials skeptical of him, White House officials said on Thursday.
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.
Announcing the nomination in a Twitter statement from his press secretary, Mr. Trump eschewed the usual pomp and ceremony that comes with putting forth his nominee to lead the country’s 1.2 million active-duty military troops.
Ms. Sanders said that Mr. Trump intended to nominate Mr. Shanahan because of his “outstanding service to the country and his demonstrated ability to lead.” She trumpeted Mr. Shanahan’s dual graduate degrees, in engineering and business administration, from the “Massachusetts Institution of Technology.” (It is actually the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.)
Mr. Shanahan’s 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 around the world.
Until December, Mr. Shanahan was a little-known Pentagon official who had previously worked at Boeing 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, though 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.
Before he was nominated as deputy defense secretary in 2017, Mr. Shanahan had spent 30 years in commercial aviation and business at Boeing. He had hoped to bring his reputation as a corporate problem solver — including helping to introduce the 787 Dreamliner — to the Defense Department.
His nomination had been pending during the ethics investigation and after a second deadly crash in five months of a Boeing commercial jet that raised questions about the manufacturer’s close relationships with federal officials.
Mr. Shanahan had managed to dodge being directly tied to the fallout after the two Boeing 737 Max 8 jets crashed — in March in Ethiopia and in October off the Indonesian coast. And no Dreamliners have failed like those planes.
The inspector general’s report, released last month, cleared Mr. Shanahan of impropriety but also cited numerous meetings at the Pentagon during which Defense Department officials said he had promoted his experiences solving production problems on the Dreamliner as techniques that should be copied by the government.
Mr. Shanahan is well known for playing a key role in rescuing the Dreamliner during his career at Boeing when delays and cost overruns threatened the future of that project.
The praise could come back to hurt him: Boeing’s plant in North Charleston, S.C., where the Dreamliner is built, has been plagued by employee complaints about safety issues on the plane stemming from the rapid pace that was pushed by management to meet quotas.
Two weeks ago, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said the ethics investigation “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.”