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The move, announced Thursday, comes as the Trump administration grapples with rising tensions in a number of high-profile hot spots around the globe, from Iran to Venezuela to China.
“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 press secretary Sarah HuckabeeSanders said in a statement.
“Acting Secretary Shanahan has served in high profile positions, including the Deputy Secretary of Defense and Vice President of Supply Chain and Operations at Boeing … he 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,” she said.
Shanahan, who has less than two years of government experience, took over as the top Defense Department official after James Mattis resigned late last year.
It’s unusual for the Pentagon to have an interim leader for so long, but Shanahan appeared to be one of the few choices left available for Trump after several potential nominees earlier reportedly turned down the offer. Among the names floated were Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, another person who was considered a contender, took herself out of the running when she announced that she would leave the administration at the end of May to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.
“I am honored by today’s announcement of President Trump’s intent to nominate. 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,” Shanahan said in a statement Thursday.
Shanahan later told reporters at the Pentagon that he was “very excited” to receive the nomination, which Trump told him about at the White House earlier that afternoon.
Asked what he expects his biggest challenge to be should he be confirmed, Shanahan replied “balancing it all.”
“For me it’s about practicing selectful neglect so that we can stay focused on the future but not ignore a lot of the emerging really important issues that . . . pop up day-to-day that you don’t plan for.”
Shanahan’s performance at the Pentagon and his dealings with Boeing will now be scrutinized by many of the same lawmakers who approved his nomination as deputy Defense secretary two years ago.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) voiced his support for Shanahan on Thursday.
“We need a confirmed leader at the Department and, after working with him closely over the last few months, I welcome his selection,” Inhofe said in a statement. “I look forward to talking with him at his confirmation hearing about how we can work together to implement the National Defense Strategy and care for our service members, veterans and military families.”
Inhofe has come around to Shanahan in recent months after telling reporters in February that he didn’t believe the former Boeing executive would get the nomination. He said at the time that Shanahan doesn’t “have the force you need in the office,” and lacks the “humility” of Mattis.
In April, Inhofe said there’s a “general good feeling about” the acting Pentagon chief.
Shanahan, 56, took on the role of the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian in July 2017, after more than three decades at Boeing. He was confirmed by the Senate in a 92-7 vote.
A son of a Vietnam veteran, Shanahan is a trained mechanical engineer with master’s degrees from MIT. He was Boeing’s senior vice president for supply chain and operations at the time Trump nominated him for his previous position.
Shanahan held a string of high-profile roles at the aerospace firm before leaving, including leading its commercial airplane programs. In that role, he oversaw the 737, 747, 767, 777 and 787 programs and became known as “Mr. Fix-it” for turning around the troubled 787 Dreamliner aircraft program.
But he has also caught the eye of lawmakers as of late, as Boeing’s 737 Max 8 commercial passenger jet was involved in two fatal crashes within five months, killing more than 300 people. Shanahan told lawmakers in March that he has not spoken to anyone in the Trump administration about the deadly crashes.
His career at Boeing also included overseeing its rotorcraft program, which supplied the U.S. military with Apache and Chinook helicopters and helped build the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, as well as leading its missile defense program and helping to develop the company’s ground-based system.
Though lawmakers easily confirmed Shanahan in 2017, his confirmation process was a little bumpy. Trump announced Shanahan’s nomination in March 2017, but a confirmation hearing wasn’t held until June as he untangled his financial ties.
At the confirmation hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), who died last year, told Shanahan that he was “not overjoyed” with the nominee’s extensive background working in the defense industry. Reported by the Hill.