The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday approved the nomination of Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan for the post of deputy defense secretary after he clarified his position on providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.
A voice vote sent to the Senate floor Shanahan's nomination to become Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' No. 2 at the Pentagon. The position has been held by Bob Work, an Obama administration holdover.
At his committee confirmation hearing last week, Shanahan came under tough questioning from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee's chairman, on the long-standing issue of whether the U.S. should provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine in its continuing struggle against eastern separatists backed by Russia.
In written answers submitted before the hearing, Shanahan said he needed access to classified material before he could take a position on Ukraine.
"The provision of lethal defensive equipment as part of our already robust security assistance program is an option I plan to look at closely if I am confirmed," he wrote.
McCain said Shanahan's response was inadequate and threatened to block the nomination. "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," the senator said.
Shanahan then submitted a revision to his written response: "I support lethal defensive security assistance to Ukraine. The United States must do more to counter Russia's aggressive behavior and support the people of Ukraine."
Assuming his approval by the full Senate, Shanahan as deputy secretary will be taking over the post seen as the top management position at the Pentagon, with a wide range of responsibilities on personnel, acquisitions and special reports.
Work, a retired Marine artillery colonel who previously held positions at think tanks, was asked to stay on as deputy secretary by Mattis. He had taken on some of the Pentagon's toughest management assignments on budgets, modernization and health care.
At Boeing, Shanahan previously was senior vice president of airplane programs and oversaw management of the 737, 747, 767, 777 and 787 programs, the White House said in announcing his nomination.
Before that, he was vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems and vice president and general manager for Rotorcraft Systems in Philadelphia, where he was responsible for all U.S. Army aviation, including the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, the CH-47 Chinook and the AH-64D Apache attack helicopter.