Reporter presses McConnell on if it's racist to tell his immigrant wife to 'go back to her country'
GOP senators caught off guard by Shanahan withdrawal
Republican senators quickly backed Patrick Shanahan's decision to withdraw his nomination to be the permanent Defense secretary in the wake of multiple reports describing past domestic violence incidents involving his family, with some voicing surprise at the allegations.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), one of President Trump's top allies, called the move Tuesday a "smart decision," adding that he hadn't heard about the domestic violence allegations "in detail" but had heard "rumors about them."
"It probably was a smart decision given the issues before the White House. ... I really appreciate what Shanahan has done," Graham told reporters. "Now we have got to find a replacement."
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was in the dark about the fact that Trump and Shanahan were discussing pulling the nomination and had told reporters only minutes before that the Defense secretary pick was safe despite reports of trouble.
"I was responding not more than two hours ago that no there's no problem. ... Then three minutes after that I got a call from the president," Inhofe said.
"I was surprised. I said, 'I'm sure the decision between the two of you has been a good decision in light of a lot of the accusations, the problems that can come from that,'" Inhofe said, recalling what he told Trump during their phone call.
Trump announced that Shanahan was dropping out of consideration in the midst of a Senate GOP lunch, leaving several senators to find out about the decision via the president's tweet or subsequent news reports.
"I was just told that as I got off the train," Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said to reporters as he made a late entrance to the lunch.
Trump said in a pair of tweets that Shanahan, a former longtime Boeing executive and deputy Defense secretary who has led the Pentagon in an acting capacity since January, wanted to "devote more time to his family."
"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.
Shanahan said in a statement that going forward with the confirmation process "would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family's life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal."
The decision leaves the Pentagon without a permanent leader at a time of rising tensions with Iran. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that "we would be better off by far to have a secretary of Defense that was actually confirmed by the Senate."
But moving forward with Shanahan's nomination despite the reports of past domestic violence would have paved the way for a high-profile, controversial confirmation fight.
"He's doing what he feels is the right thing to do, and I would support him," said GOP Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa), the only female member of Republican leadership.
As reported by USA Today, police reports and court filings showed that an August 2010 fight with his ex-wife escalated into a physical clash. His ex-wife, Kimberley Jordinson, reportedly told police he punched her in the stomach, while he told police she was the aggressor and punched him "10 or 20 times."
She was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, but prosecutors later dropped the charges citing a lack of evidence.
The Washington Post on Tuesday also detailed a 2011 incident in which Shanahan's son hit Jordinson with a baseball bat and left Jordinson unconscious in a pool of blood.
"Bad things can happen to good families ... and this is a tragedy, really," Shanahan told the Post in an interview published shortly after Trump's tweets. Dredging up the episode publicly, Shanahan said, "will ruin my son's life."
"I would welcome the opportunity to be Secretary of Defense, but not at the expense of being a good father," Shanahan said in his statement Tuesday.