U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he will nominate Patrick Shanahan to be his second secretary of defence. Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since Jan. 1 — a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive cabinet position.
“Acting secretary Shanahan has proven over the last several months that he is beyond qualified to lead the Department of Defence, and he will continue to do an excellent job,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.
Moments later, Shanahan spoke to reporters outside the Pentagon, saying he was very excited about the nomination and looking forward to a job he said requires him to “spin a lot of plates.”
“The biggest challenge is balancing it all. For me it’s about practising selectful neglect, so that we can stay focused on the future,” Shanahan said, adding with a grin, “I called my mom. She was super happy.”
The announcement comes close on the heels of an investigation by the department’s inspector general over accusations that Shanahan had shown favouritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defence secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors. The probe appeared to stall his nomination, but the IG wrapped up the investigation rapidly and cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing.
The IG interviewed Shanahan as well as 33 witnesses under oath, including former defence secretary Jim Mattis and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We did not substantiate any of the allegations. We determined that Mr. Shanahan fully complied with his ethics agreements and his ethical obligations regarding Boeing and its competitors,” the report said.
Shanahan wields none of the star power of Trump’s first defence secretary. Some believed Trump resented Mattis for his reputation in Washington as a superior strategist and a moderating influence on an impulsive president.
Two months before Mattis resigned citing policy differences, Trump publicly questioned whether he was “sort of a Democrat.” After the former marine general quit, Trump spoke more harshly, calling Mattis a failure and insisted he had fired him, even though Mattis had resigned first.
3 months as acting secretary
Shanahan, 56, has a lifetime of experience in the defence industry but little in government. In more than three months as the acting secretary, he has focused on implementing the national defence strategy that was developed during Mattis’s tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls “great power” competition with China and Russia.
Presidents typically take pains to ensure the Pentagon is being run by a Senate-confirmed official, given the grave responsibilities that include sending young Americans into battle, ensuring the military is ready for extreme emergencies like nuclear war and managing overseas alliances that are central to U.S. security.
Shanahan joined Boeing in 1986, rose through its ranks and is credited with rescuing a troubled Dreamliner 787 program. He also led the company’s missile defence and military helicopter programs.
Trump has seemed attracted to Shanahan partially for his work on one of the president’s pet projects — creating a space force. Trump also has publicly lauded Boeing, builder of many of the military’s most prominent aircraft, including the Apache and Chinook helicopters, the C-17 cargo plane and the B-52 bomber, as well as the iconic presidential aircraft, Air Force One.
Although a few members of the Senate have rhetorically roughed up Shanahan, he has not generated broad opposition during his months of auditioning for the nomination. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham butted heads with Shanahan over the administration’s Syria policy, but that confrontation quickly faded after the White House partially reversed course by agreeing to keep a few hundred troops in Syria rather than withdrawing all 2,000.
This was only the third time in history that the Pentagon has been led by an acting chief. The last was William H. Taft, who served for two months in 1989 after President George H.W. Bush’s first choice to be defence secretary, John Tower, became mired in controversy and ultimately failed to be confirmed by the Senate. Dick Cheney, the future vice-president under President George W. Bush, then was nominated and confirmed.
This story originally appeared on CBC