GOP Grills Biden Nominee for Top Defense Post

Colin Kahl supported Iran deal, attacked Republicans on social media

Colin Kahl
Colin Kahl / Getty Images
March 4, 2021

Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee hammered President Joe Biden's nominee for a top Pentagon post over his support for the Iranian nuclear deal, his criticism of the U.S. embassy's move to Jerusalem, and his history of "inflammatory" comments against Republicans and members of Congress on Twitter.

Republican members on Thursday cited numerous heated public statements by Colin Kahl, a former Obama State Department official whom Biden tapped for undersecretary of defense for policy, including some of his Twitter posts reported by the Washington Free Beacon on Thursday.

In one tweet, Kahl called the Republicans "the party of ethnic cleansing," and in another he claimed that critics of the Iran deal "won't be satisfied until they get the war they've pushed for decades." Kahl's Twitter feed includes numerous barbs at individual Republican senators, as well as the party as a whole, which he described in 2017 as "a clown show."

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.), the ranking member on the committee, said, "What concerns me here is that hyper-partisanship, especially in regards to our national security, is inappropriate for a position of undersecretary of defense for policy."

Kahl apologized during the hearing for some of his Twitter posts, calling them "disrespectful."

"To state the obvious, the last few years have been polarizing on social media. I'm sure there are times when I got swept up in that," said Kahl. "There were a number of positions that President Trump took that I strongly opposed. I think the language that I used opposing those was sometimes disrespectful, and for that I apologize."

Kahl added that he is capable of putting politics aside in his jobs, noting that he worked in policy positions for the Pentagon under the Obama and Bush administrations.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said he believed Kahl's comments indicated he did not have the temperament for a nonpartisan policy position and could create a "toxic environment" at the Pentagon.

"If this is the way you respond to policy agreements when you're sitting at home reading the news, I do not think that you're fit to sit in the Pentagon and make decisions about life and death," said Cotton. "That's one reason why I will oppose your nomination."

Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) said she would also oppose Kahl's nomination. She cited a Kahl tweet that says, "If [John] Bolton replaces [then-White House national security adviser H.R.] McMaster, we are all going to die."

"These exaggerated views and incendiary remarks are not what we are looking for in someone who is advising policy in the Department of Defense," said Ernst.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R., Alaska) cited a similar controversy involving the previous nominee for the undersecretary of defense for policy position under the Trump administration, Anthony Tata, who faced bipartisan opposition last summer due to his inflammatory partisan tweets. Tata's nomination was eventually withdrawn.

Sullivan noted that at least four of the Democrats sitting on the current committee sent a letter to Tata last summer asking him to withdraw his nomination due to his "record of offensive and inflammatory comments."

The Alaska senator said it was "a free country, you can say whatever the heck you want" but argued that Democrats "have some explaining to do" if they support Kahl's nomination.