Trump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation

Trump defense pick expected to face tense confirmation
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Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanDefense chief calls on European allies to be wary of China's investments, blasts Russia Pentagon chief approves 20 more miles of border wall Why Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary MORE is facing questions about whether he is too deferential to President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE as he awaits confirmation to be the full-time Defense secretary.

Shanahan's predecessor, James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report: White House does damage control after Mulvaney remarks Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' MORE, was lauded by lawmakers in both parties as one of the so-called "adults in the room" known for pushing back on Trump's most impulsive decisions.

By contrast, Shanahan has become the face of some of Trump's most controversial moves, such as using military funding to build a border wall.

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With worries mounting in Congress about the potential for war with Iran – one of the toughest tests yet for the Pentagon head – Democrats are signaling they'll use Shanahan's confirmation to question him about how much he's willing to rein in the president.

“After Mattis, somebody with that kind of experience, and then to have [Shanahan], there are concerns that I have, especially as we’re in a pretty tense situation with Iran,” Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group Overnight Energy: Top Interior lawyer accused of lying to Congress confirmed | Senate set to deny funding for BLM move | EPA threatens to cut California highway funds MORE (D-Hawaii) said. “I’d like to have more confidence in who’s going to be making decisions, although I know whoever it is, it won’t be the secretary of Defense."

On Friday, Shanahan approved sending 1,500 U.S. troop to the Middle East to bolster protection of forces already there. The deployment comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

Republicans are expected to line up behind Shanahan, meaning he will likely be confirmed in the GOP-led Senate. But senators in both parties expect a tense confirmation, with Democrats grilling him on Trump policies they vehemently oppose.

“He’s supposed to enact the president’s intent,” a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Hill in pushing back on the characterization of Shanahan being too deferential to Trump.

The official said the Defense secretary's job is to provide options and then carry out the president’s decision.

“He’s supposed to be deferential to the president. That’s our system. No one ever accused McNamara of being too deferential to LBJ, Carter of Obama, etc,” the official said.

One factor that could contribute to tense exchanges during Shanahan's confirmation: two Democrats on the panel interviewing him – Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Sanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally On The Money: Supreme Court takes up challenge to CFPB | Warren's surge brings scrutiny to wealth tax | Senators eye curbs on Trump emergency powers MORE (Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick MORE (N.Y.) – are running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination, and a viral moment could help them stand out from the pack of 20-plus White House contenders.

Warren told The Hill this past week she opposes Shanahan's nomination, saying "it's not about politics.” She pointed to Shanahan's more than 30 years working at Boeing before becoming deputy Defense secretary in July 2017.

“This is a revolving door issue,” Warren said. “Someone who has no government experience, no experience outside making a profit for Boeing, should not be in charge of the Department of Defense. The American people should not have to wonder when the secretary of Defense makes a decision whether it is to benefit his former or perhaps future employer or to protect the safety and security of the United States of America.”

An inspector general investigation –– opened in part after referrals from Warren’s office –– cleared Shanahan of allegations he violated his ethics agreement and improperly favored Boeing while serving in government.

The defense official said he thinks the inspector general findings are “the final word on his business ties.”

The official said Shanahan understands senators have “legitimate concerns” about his “policy chops” and that he is preparing to answer those questions at his confirmation hearing.

Shanahan’s confirmation hearing is expected in June, but has not officially been scheduled since his paperwork has not yet been sent to the Senate.

The official, asked about the status of the paperwork Friday, said Shanahan “started the background investigations and should be ready by next week.”

It has been more than two weeks since the White House announced Trump would nominate Shanahan to be the permanent Defense secretary. He took over as acting Pentagon head in January.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions Top House Democrat: Trump did 'on camera' what Romney warned about MORE (R-Okla.) has said he will schedule Shanahan’s hearing as soon as a week after receiving the necessary paperwork, in line with committee rules about notifying members of the panel about a hearing at least a week beforehand.

As he prepares for the hearing, the defense official said, Shanahan has been doing individual office visits to build a “network of advocates” in the Senate.

The official said that Shanahan is expecting to face questions on his decision to shuffle defense funding around to build Trump’s border wall without congressional approval, a move that has left Democrats particularly incensed.

“I have never been so disappointed in any nominee for secretary of Defense,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said after Shanahan’s nomination. “He has no experience, no apparent insight or expertise, and his surreptitious movement of funds within the Defense Department budget to build a wall, I think is irresponsible and reprehensible.”

Pressed on if he is definitively opposed to Shanahan, Blumenthal said, “I don’t know what he could say that would change my mind.”

Inhofe has dismissed Democratic concerns as partisanship.

“Democrats don’t like Republicans,” Inhofe told reporters earlier this month.

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSenators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington Fury over Trump Syria decision grows MORE (R.I.), the top Democrat on the committee, argued it is common for a nomination in the middle of a president’s term to become a referendum on the president’s policies.

“Like everyone who’s been appointed mid-term, it’s not just the individual qualifications, it’s the president’s policies,” Reed said. “I think the border issue will come up, particularly because it’s being funded by taking what was previously defense priorities and now they don’t seem to be so much priorities."

Reed sparred with Shanahan over the border issue at a budget hearing earlier this year, demanding Shanahan send Congress a list of potentially defunded military construction projects by the end of the day. Shanahan agreed to, but didn’t meet the deadline, prompting another angry statement from Reed. Shanahan sent the list a few days later.

Asked if there was anything Shanahan could say about the border to win his support, Reed said “the border issue’s tough.”

“It’s very hard to justify in one sense asking for military projects, saying they’re critical to our national defense, and then on the other saying but we’ll send it to the border even though the [Northern Command] commander has stated bluntly that there’s no military threat,” Reed said. “That’s a contradiction that’s hard to resolve.”