MUNICH — Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe said Saturday he does not oppose Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and sought to clarify his previous remarks which he said were misinterpreted as an attack.
“I’d be happy to have him as the secretary of defense and would work with him very well. I think we’ve accomplished that,” Inhofe, R-Okla., said on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
Speaking with reporters earlier in the week in Washington, Inhofe said he did not expect President Donald Trump would nominate Shanahan as a permanent replacement for popular former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Inhofe also praised Mattis’s humility, but said Shanahan did not share that quality.
The comments came at a sensitive time for Shanhahan. A former Boeing executive with little political stature and without military experience, Shanahan was making his international debut this week, with visits to Kabul, a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels and then the Munich conference with world leaders and defense policy experts.
Shanahan was installed as acting defense secretary on Jan. 1, and he has been praised by Trump for his work in the weeks since then. The president has also said that Shanahan “could be there for a long time” but has not indicated if he will nominate him for the permanent Cabinet role.
On Saturday, Inhofe met with Shanahan at Munich for the first time since his remarks days earlier. After the meeting, Inhofe told reporters in a brief hallway interview that he had meant the comments in a joking way.
“That was all in that light vein, and it came off as if he was under attack—by me,” Inhofe said, adding that it’s important that he work closely with Shanahan.
Inhofe said Mattis was a close friend and uniquely humble.
“He is humble. When I went to see him when he was secretary, it was raining cats and dogs, and he walked out to my car to meet me. That was him,” Inhofe said.
Inhofe stopped short of recommending Trump nominate Shanahan, saying, “I don’t want to interfere with what the president might be doing, and he hasn’t told me.”
Shanahan, earlier in the week, said he is “happy to serve the country in any capacity the president asks me to.”
“The Department of Defense is an amazing institution. And whether there’s an ‘acting’ next to your name or not, it’s the same job. I’ll do the job the same way and it’s a pleasure to serve in this role," Shanahan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.