WASHINGTON ― Amid warnings from a top Senate Republican, President Joe Biden’s pick to become Pentagon policy chief faces a make-or-break confirmation hearing next week, according to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed.
Colin Kahl, who would serve as the undersecretary of defense for policy if confirmed, is reportedly facing GOP resistance over his support for the Iran nuclear deal and other aspects of his record in working on Middle East policy in the Obama administration.
“The committee hearing will be absolutely critical and crucial because he’ll have an opportunity to explain his positions, and then my colleagues will make a judgement based on his testimony, based on their perceptions,” Reed, D-R.I., told the Defense Writers Group on Wednesday. “I think he’ll get a fair shot at the hearing, frankly.”
Kahl ― who served as an action officer in the policy shop early in his career, and was deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East from 2009 to 2011 ― received praise from Reed for his knowledge, experience and ties to Biden.
“He’s had a long relationship with the president and I think that’ll help the [Defense] Department in terms of working more closely with the White House,” Reed said. “We have the process, we’ll have the hearing, and I hope that his positions come clear and he gets the support he needs.”
Politico broke the news that Kahl’s nomination faced headwinds, with Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., saying he had “serious concerns.” Still, staff for Inhofe ― an influential member of the panel ― stopped short of saying he opposed Kahl, and signaled that he remains undecided.
“Sen. Inhofe is still reviewing Mr. Kahl’s nomination closely and looks forward to hearing from him on these issues in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday. “He has serious concerns with some of the policy positions that Mr. Kahl has taken in the past.”
The Biden administration and Reed each has cited the rocky presidential transition to explain why Biden hasn’t made any Defense Department nominations beyond Lloyd Austin as defense secretary, Kathleen Hicks as deputy defense secretary and Kahl. Austin and Hicks have been confirmed.
On Wednesday, Reed blamed the delays on then-President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election, which obstructed transition activities at the Pentagon.
“Unlike previous transitions where they really began seriously Nov. 5, 6 or 7, they weren’t allowed sometimes even in the building for a long time,” Reed said of the Biden transition team. “So that’s one of the reason’s it’s delayed.
“But despite that, we’ve got the obligation mutually. They have to send the nominees up, and then we have to move aggressively, and we will,” Reed said. “With the Department of Defense, [Republicans and Democrats] have recognized that regardless of how do you feel about the nominee, we should try to expedite the nominations, get them to the [Senate] floor, get them passed.”
Pointing to the Trump administration’s lax approach to filling key Pentagon jobs with Senate-confirmed nominees, Reed said he has pressed the Biden administration to do better. There are roughly 60 nominations to pursue, he said.
“We’ve made the point that we need the nominees as quickly as possible,” Reed said. “Particularly after the last several years of the Trump administration with the department really in disarray with acting secretaries ... we’ve got to get back to stability, and I’ve made that point repeatedly to the White House and to others.”
Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.