Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan testifies during a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing on the FY2020 Department of Defense budget in Rayburn Building on Wednesday, May 1, 2019.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

Trump’s Pentagon fiasco worsens as his nominee withdraws


It was six weeks ago when Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Patrick Shanahan as his new Defense secretary, but for reasons that weren’t altogether clear, the White House never formally submitted Shanahan’s nomination to the Senate.

As of this afternoon, it’s no longer necessary.

Patrick Shanahan, the acting secretary of defense who President Donald Trump said would be tapped to take over the job permanently, is stepping down and withdrawing from consideration, Trump said Tuesday.

“Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family,” Trump tweeted.

Secretary of the Army Mark Esper, a former Raytheon executive, will take Shanahan’s place as acting defense secretary, Trump said.

Shanahan’s withdrawal came almost immediately after the Washington Post published a disturbing report on incidents of domestic violence within Shanahan’s family.

At this point, the White House will presumably renew its efforts to find a nominee to lead the Pentagon, but as Shanahan exits the stage, it’s worth pausing to appreciate just how dramatic a fiasco this process has been over the last six months.

As regular readers may recall, the original plan was for James Mattis to serve as the secretary of Defense through the end of February, giving the White House time to search for his successor, and creating the conditions for a smooth transition from one Pentagon chief to the next.

Indeed, soon after Mattis announced his resignation, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “Let’s not forget, he is not just walking out the door. This will be orderly process and continue to be a good relationship over the next couple of months.”

That didn’t last. Trump eventually learned via television what the retired four-star general wrote in his resignation letter – which the president could’ve read but didn’t – at which point the Republican asked someone to direct Mattis to leave his post on Dec. 31, without a successor in mind.

A couple of weeks later, the president bragged that “everybody” wants to be his Defense secretary, but the boast masked a problem: Trump was struggling to find someone to fill the position.

When the president eventually settled on Shanahan, the process was delayed further because the acting Pentagon chief was the subject of an ethics investigation in March.

Shanahan was eventually cleared, which led to his nomination, which has now been derailed by a family matter that the White House almost certainly should’ve been aware of.

The result is an even longer delay before Americans have a Senate-confirmed Defense secretary. So much for the “orderly process” Sanders promised six months ago.

Update: In case this isn’t obvious, the process over the last six months has been a fiasco, but so too are the circumstances we find ourselves in: as Trump dispatches 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East, and tensions with Iran rise, we won’t have a Pentagon chief for quite a while longer.

We’ve already set a record for the longest DOD vacancy in American history. That record will just keep going now.