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President Trump announced on Twitter yesterday that Patrick Shanahan, the Pentagon's No. 2 civilian, will become acting secretary of defense on New Year's Day. That's two months earlier than when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had said he would step down. NPR's David Welna has more on the man who will at least temporarily be taking Mattis' place.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Fifty-six-year-old Patrick Shanahan takes over the helm of the Pentagon with little of the political or military experience that most other defense secretaries have brought to the job. Shanahan rose over three decades to the executive ranks at aircraft manufacturer Boeing, a major military contractor. His main task as No. 2 at the Pentagon has been to try to squeeze greater efficiency out of the sprawling Department of Defense. In an interview earlier this year with MORNING EDITION's Steve Inskeep, Shanahan described his approach to getting the Pentagon on track to where it needed to be.
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PATRICK SHANAHAN: Prepare for a cold winter for a short period. Who knows how long the budget will last? Make the most out of it. You're developing these weapons systems and thinking about the future. You know, this isn't the, you know, freshmen econ class. This is the Ph.D. physics class.
WELNA: Shanahan faced some tough questioning at his confirmation hearing last year to be deputy defense secretary, especially from the Senate Armed Services Committee's chairman at the time, John McCain. McCain, who died four months ago, told this Boeing executive who'd have control if confirmed over the Pentagon's weapons programs that he wanted to be sure that, as he put it, the fox is not going to be put back in the henhouse. McCain also said he was disturbed that Shanahan had said he'd have to look closely at whether the U.S. should supply Ukraine with weapons to fight pro-Russian separatists. It was an issue the committee had discussed extensively and that, McCain said, Shanahan should've come prepared to address.
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JOHN MCCAIN: Not a good beginning, not a good beginning. Do not do that again, Mr. Shanahan, or I will not take your name up for a vote before this committee. Am I perfectly clear?
SHANAHAN: Very clear.
WELNA: Shanahan later sent a 10-page response to McCain's questions, saying he would support arming Ukraine. And 92 senators voted to confirm him. It's not clear whether he's in the running to be a permanent replacement for outgoing Secretary Mattis. David Welna, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.