WASHINGTON ― The Senate confirmed Colin Kahl to be the undersecretary of defense for policy in a 49-45 party-line vote Tuesday.
With Kahl’s confirmation, the former national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden will assume the No. 3 civilian job at the Pentagon, overseeing strategy, nuclear deterrence, missile defense, international cooperation, and plans and policies.
Unlike a procedural vote last week, GOP absences Tuesday meant there was no dramatic tie for Vice President Kamala Harris to break.
Among several lawmakers who did not vote, Republican Sens. Kevin Cramer and Richard Shelby were out of Washington, D.C. due to family emergencies. Shelby returned to Alabama on Tuesday morning, and Cramer announced he would be away all week after his mother died.
“I do not plan to be in Washington, D.C., this week as I attend to family matters. Over the weekend, my Mother Clarice Cramer peacefully passed away after having lived with Alzheimer’s Disease,” Cramer said in a statement.
“Our family appreciates the messages of comfort and support we have already received. We are grateful we were able to spend time with our mom during her last days on earth before she went home to be reunited with her husband and the Lord.”
Senate Republicans have been unified in their opposition to Kahl, who was a vocal supporter of the hot-button Iran nuclear deal. They seized on his history of tweets attacking Republican lawmakers to argue he lacks the judgment and temperament for the job.
But Democrats accused Republicans of waging a partisan proxy fight over the deal and Biden’s plan to rejoin it. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., has said Kahl was subjected to a “smear campaign.”
Last month included a sometimes tense confirmation hearing and the evenly divided Senate Armed Services Committee deadlock on Kahl’s nomination. That led to a Senate vote last week to advance Kahl’s nomination, where Harris cast a tie-breaking vote―and it seemed then like she would have to again this week.
But the absences made it unnecessary. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 49-44 to close debate on Kahl’s nomination before the final vote a few hours later. Six Republicans and one Democrat missed that vote.
Absent for the confirmation vote were Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell, and Republican Sens. Roy Blunt, Rand Paul and Mike Rounds ― with Cramer and Shelby.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a floor speech earlier in the day that nominees for key Department of Defense roles typically receive strong bipartisan support in the Senate and blamed Biden for his divisive pick.
“I can’t recall a single nominee for the top DoD position in the past 40 years who didn’t garner at least one vote from the other party,” Inhofe said. “We need nominees who will work with members on both sides of the aisle; those members have to trust that person in return.”
Earlier in the day, the National Republican Senatorial Committee painted Kahl as “just another product of Joe Biden’s conveyor belt of radical, unqualified nominees.” Senate Armed Services Committee member Rick Scott, R-Fla., chairs the NRSC.
When Biden announced he was picking Kahl, who also served as deputy assistant to President Barack Obama, Biden said that Kahl and now-Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks would be trusted partners “as we work to restore responsible American leadership on the world stage.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.