Top Senator Wants New Defense Secretary, But Misses Mattis

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FILE PHOTO -- Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan is formally sworn into office by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a ceremony in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Aug. 14, 2017. Shanahan will take over as Acting Secretary of Defense on January 1, 2019. (DOD/Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
FILE PHOTO -- Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan is formally sworn into office by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a ceremony in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Aug. 14, 2017. Shanahan will take over as Acting Secretary of Defense on January 1, 2019. (DOD/Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday he expected President Donald Trump would eventually get around to nominating a new Defense Secretary, but acknowledged that he missed Jim Mattis.

"I have to tell you, I liked the last one," Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said when asked about urgency for naming a permanent replacement to former Defense Secretary Mattis.

"He had a very rare talent, and it's called humility," Inhofe said of Mattis, "and I'd like to see that rub off on somebody else. I consider Mattis to be a really close personal friend of mine and has been for a long period of time."

Inhofe said he expected Trump would eventually move to nominate a Mattis successor, despite the president's occasional statements that he prefers acting Secretaries in his Cabinet to give him more flexibility.

"We need to have a Secretary of Defense, so I anticipate we will," said Inhofe, who would preside as SASC chairman at the confirmation hearing. "If you're an acting, you don't have the force that you should have."

At a Defense Writers Group breakfast, Inhofe declined comment on whether he would back Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan for the nomination but said Shanahan could face a difficult nomination hearing because of his background as a Boeing executive.

"Every time someone has any kind of background whether it's Boeing or regardless of what company it is," Inhofe said, "there's going to be kind of a built-in suspicion and I would say this will become very partisan."

Shanahan was thrust into the acting secretary's position following Mattis' stunning resignation on Dec. 20, the day after Trump announced the Syria troop withdrawal.

Shanahan was in Brussels last night on the third leg of his first international trip as acting secretary following stops to meet with the troops and local officials in Baghdad and Afghanistan.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com

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