WASHINGTON ― The U.S. Senate on Wednesday advanced the nomination of Colin Kahl as undersecretary of defense for policy after Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote.
A partisan battle over Kahl, a former national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden, is expected to stretch over several votes and into next week. After Kahl advanced Wednesday without any Republican votes, it appeared Harris would have to be called into action repeatedly as tie-breaker.
The undersecretary of defense for policy is the No. 3 civilian job at the Department of Defense, overseeing strategy, nuclear deterrence, missile defense, international cooperation, and plans and policies.
Kahl faced pointed questions from Republicans over his Middle East policy positions and history of tweets attacking Republican lawmakers. Democrats and allies said the nomination has become a partisan proxy fight over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and Biden’s plan to rejoin it.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., explained his opposition to Kahl on the Senate floor Wednesday and said that Republicans and Democrats rarely disagree so sharply on national security nominees.
“The national security problems we face are wicked and complex; we wrestle with them constantly on this committee,” Inhofe said. “What I cannot support are nominees who reduce complex national security conversations to partisan soundbites.”
Airland Subcommittee ranking member Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., offered some of the most barbed criticism of Kahl in his Senate floor speech, accusing Kahl of being an aspiring Twitter celebrity whose “record of disastrous policy judgments” renders him unfit for the job.
Kahl’s previous roadblock was that a group of 18 GOP lawmakers demanded an FBI investigation into whether Kahl tweeted out classified information. Inhofe announced last week he agreed with their call that the nomination to be delayed until a probe could be completed.
Experts on classification told Politico that the senators’ accusations appeared to be politically motivated and that the tweets seemed to fall short of a violation.
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.