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Who Is America's Acting Defense Secretary?


U.S. President Donald Trump listens next to acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan during a Cabinet meeting on day 12 of the partial U.S. government shutdown at the White House in Washington, Jan. 2, 2019.

This month, a new man took the reins (at least temporarily) at the Pentagon. But who is Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and how might he interact with the commander-in-chief, President Donald Trump? Here are five fast facts about the Defense Department head:

1. Shanahan was the deputy under Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“He has certainly been exposed over the past year and a half to policy issues, so he's not coming in cold to them. It’s not as if he's walking in having never been on the inside." — Todd Rosenblum, former assistant secretary of defense

2. Unlike Mattis, who served more than 40 years in the military before taking the Pentagon’s top civilian post, Shanahan spent more than 30 years in private industry working for the Boeing aircraft manufacturing company.

PROFILE: America's New Defense Secretary

PROFILE: America's New Defense Secretary
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Critics have raised concern about his lack of military experience and about the potential bias toward his old company, which wins many Pentagon contracts to build military technologies.

3. Shanahan's foreign policy positions are relatively unknown.

In Mattis’s resignation letter last year, he wrote that Trump had the right to a defense secretary more aligned with his interests. However, it's not clear whether Shanahan fits that bill.

“What little bit we know of Mr. Shanahan, in terms of his national security and foreign policy beliefs, they were really mirrored, if not were formed in some way, by the beliefs of Secretary Mattis. So, if that's the case, you're ultimately getting a much less experienced version of Mattis." — Bishop Garrison of the Truman National Security Project

4. Shanahan has so far appeared eager to please Trump.

In a cabinet meeting at the White House on Jan. 2, the acting defense secretary agreed with Trump on the issue of border security, saying, "The threat is real. The risks are real. We need to control our borders."

Also, when Trump visited the Pentagon to roll out the new missile defense strategy on Jan.17, Shanahan enthusiastically reinforced the president's plan.

“Mr. President, we are ready for this task. This is the department of get stuff done." — Patrick Shanahan

5. Shanahan says he wants to keep the Pentagon out of politics, which could pit the defense secretary against the wishes of his commander-in-chief.

"It's been a longstanding responsibility of the Department... to not politicize the military. And why that is so important is that we recruit from all parts of the United States. I mean, this an all-volunteer force. ... We work to keep this a nonpolitical environment and stay focused on our job of defending the country," Shanahan told reporters Tuesday.