MUNICH, GERMANY — Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said Saturday he does not oppose Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan becoming the next defense secretary and that previous remarks he made were misconstrued.
“We’ve known each other for a long time. I’d be happy to have him as a secretary of defense and could work with him very well. And I think we’ve accomplished that,” Inhofe said on the sidelines at the Munich Security Conference.
Inhofe’s remarks to reporters last week in Washington had sparked speculation that he opposed Shanahan taking over the position to replace former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Inhofe had said during a breakfast roundtable with reporters that Shanahan was “not as humble” as his predecessor, Jim Mattis.
But Inhofe said he was joking and was talking about Mattis as a close friend, not casting dispersion on Shanahan.
“I was really close to the previous secretary, and he’s a very close friend and has been a close friend for a long time. But I singled out — of all his characteristics, his humility is one of the strongest ones. He is humble,” he said.
He said that “it came off as” if he were attacking Shanahan.
Inhofe joked, “Look, I have a lot of differences with the secretary of the Navy. So I don’t need to have differences with any of the rest of them. We need to be working closely together.”
Inhofe and Shanahan met Saturday morning at the conference, which is the largest annual gathering of world leaders and military officials in Europe.
“We talked for quite a while,” Inhofe said.
When asked if he had other names in mind to take over for Mattis, Inhofe said he did not want to interfere with President Trump’s selection of a permanent defense secretary.
He said he had previously suggested former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, as well as several other people, for the job.
But he said he has not suggested anyone else since those names have been eliminated.
Mattis’s sudden resignation in December set off a search for his replacement, but Trump put Shanahan, Mattis’s deputy, in place shortly after.
This was Shanahan’s first time attending the Munich Security Conference as acting defense secretary. He arrived in Munich on Friday after a trip to Afghanistan, Iraq, and a NATO defense ministerial in Brussels.