Who is Patrick Shanahan? Trump's acting replacement for Mattis came to the Pentagon after decades with defense contractor Boeing

President Trump announced Sunday that Patrick Shanahan, the deputy secretary of defense, will become acting secretary, replacing outgoing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on New Year’s Day — two months before Mattis’s resignation was supposed to take effect.

Trump’s tweet came just three days after Mattis announced he was resigning following the president’s controversial decision to withdraw American troops from Syria.


Shanahan, who is originally from Washington state, has been the deputy secretary of defense since July 2017. Before joining the government, Shanahan spent 32 years working for Boeing, a major defense contractor. He was most recently the company’s senior vice president of supply chain and operations.

President Trump and Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan during a Cabinet meeting in April. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

During his career at Boeing, Shanahan served as senior vice president of commercial airplane programs and had leadership positions in the development of various aircraft and weapons. As vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, he oversaw the creation of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, which can target and destroy ballistic missiles, and the development of aircraft-based laser weapons. And as vice president and general manager of Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, he oversaw the development of combat helicopters, including the Apache and Chinook, and the Osprey, which Boeing calls the “most in-demand aircraft” with the Marine Corps.

Trump didn’t indicate who he might choose as a permanent replacement for Mattis, a retired four-star general who almost alone in Trump’s Cabinet had support from both parties; he was the first Cabinet secretary confirmed, by a vote of 98-1. Shanahan, if nominated, would almost certainly be a much more controversial choice, given his job history with one of the world’s largest and most influential defense contractors. Trump’s choices to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler, have both been criticized for ties to the fossil fuel industry. And Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, on “Meet the Press” Sunday, served notice that he wanted Mattis replaced by someone who shared Mattis’s expansive view of America’s obligations in the world and to its allies. It’s not clear if Shanahan, whose background is in military hardware, would have the same outlook.

Patrick Shanahan arrives at a National Space Council meeting on Oct. 23. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Early in his administration Trump boasted about the former generals serving in the Cabinet and White House. By January, all will be gone: Mattis, former national security advisers Mike Flynn and H.R. McMaster, and chief of staff John Kelly. In light of the pushback against Trump’s Syria decision by American generals, and Trump’s abrupt dismissal of the widely respected Mattis, the White House may have a hard time finding a prominent military official to take over at the Pentagon.

Secretary of defense is a civilian job, and Mattis needed a special waiver to be confirmed. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has been mentioned as a possible candidate. An Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cotton developed a hawkish reputation with his criticisms of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and he often defends Trump against his colleagues on the Senate floor. But Cotton, 41, is believed to have national political ambitions and might not want to give up his seat to serve at the pleasure of a mercurial president.

Former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., now a Washington lobbyist and Heritage Foundation fellow, was rumored to be on the short list for the Pentagon job in 2016, before Mattis was chosen.

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