Biden Taps Manchin’s Wife for Key Admin Post After W.V. Democrat Saves Imperiled DOD Nominee

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March 26, 2021

President Joe Biden tapped Democratic senator Joe Manchin's wife for a "key" administration post on Friday, two days after the West Virginia senator agreed to cast a last-minute swing vote in favor of Biden's beleaguered Pentagon policy nominee, Colin Kahl.

Manchin's wife Gayle was nominated as federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission on Friday, according to a statement from the White House. The $175 million "economic development partnership agency" focuses on "invest[ing] in Appalachia's economic future by providing grants, publishing research, and sponsoring learning experiences," according to its website.

The news comes two days after Manchin cast the Senate Armed Services Committee's deciding vote to advance Kahl's nomination for undersecretary of defense for policy to the Senate floor, and raises questions about whether there was any connection between his vote and his wife's nomination.

Neither Manchin nor the White House responded to requests for comment.

Pro-Israel groups and West Virginia legislators had urged Manchin to oppose Kahl, citing his extensive involvement in the Iran nuclear deal, his opposition to Iran sanctions, and his criticism of pro-Israel policies. The White House and Democratic operatives also lobbied Manchin heavily to support Kahl.

Manchin was the committee's lone Democratic holdout on Kahl until the final hours, telling a CNN reporter the night before the vote that he still hadn't made up his mind.

"We're still working on it. I'm still working on it," Manchin told the reporter. "I'm trying to get there."

The committee’s final vote was 13-13, split along party lines, the bare minimum Kahl needed to advance to the Senate floor.

Republicans on the committee uniformly opposed Kahl, citing his policy positions and his history of inflammatory, partisan comments on Twitter, including calling the GOP "the party of ethnic cleansing" and bad-mouthing specific lawmakers. Manchin had previously opposed Neera Tanden as Biden's nominee for Office of Management and Budget director—effectively killing her nomination—due to his concerns about her "partisan" Twitter posts and ability to work with both parties in Congress.

The controversy surrounding Kahl means that he could still face a tricky path to confirmation. Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), who authored the Iran sanctions legislation that Kahl once called "a diplomatic trainwreck," said he was undecided on the nominee as of Thursday. Kahl would need full Democratic support, or at least one Republican crossover, to get through the 50-50 Senate.

The Senate has yet to schedule a final floor vote on Kahl, which is expected to take place after lawmakers return from recess in mid-April.