Manchin Caves on Colin Kahl

Committee votes to send Biden defense pick to Senate floor

Biden nominee Colin Kahl and Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) / edited from Getty Images
March 24, 2021

The Senate Armed Services Committee narrowly voted to advance Colin Kahl's nomination for undersecretary of defense for policy on Wednesday on a 13-13 party-line vote—the minimum needed to send the beleaguered nominee to the Senate floor.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.), the committee's closely watched swing vote, ended up siding with his party after weeks of advocacy campaigns by pro-Israel groups and West Virginia state legislators urging him to oppose the nomination. Committee Republicans all voted against Kahl, who has faced controversy over his advocacy for the Iran nuclear deal, anti-Israel policies, and tweets insulting GOP lawmakers and defense hawks.

Republicans on the committee responded to his vote out of committee with a joint press release urging their colleagues to oppose Kahl’s nomination when it goes to the Senate floor. The committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jim Inhofe, said the GOP members "all agree that [Kahl] has neither the disposition nor judgment to serve in this critical position at this critical time."

Sen. Tom Cotton said Kahl’s "judgment about matters of war and peace is almost always wrong and should be disqualifying, and his history of rash decisions makes him a downright dangerous nominee." Sen. Marsha Blackburn added that Kahl "has been consistently wrong about almost every foreign policy issue in recent memory," while Sen. Tom Tillis argued that Kahl "is not a mainstream nominee."

Now Kahl is expected to receive a full Senate vote, where he will come face to face with many of the same lawmakers he spent years disparaging on Twitter and in other public forums.

As Kahl's nomination moved forward, two potential obstacles for him could be Democratic senator Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Republican senator Mitt Romney (Utah). The nominee repeatedly criticized both senators on Twitter while serving in the Obama administration and is said to be nervous about how they will break.

Kahl called Menendez's 2013 Iran sanctions legislation "a diplomatic train wreck" and a "poison pill" that would make "war more likely." He also approvingly tweeted a link to a blog post on the website LobeLog that called Menendez's bill the "Kirk-Menendez Wag the Dog Act" and claimed it was designed by the "Israel lobby" to push the United States into war with Iran.

"Proof that the new Iran sanctions legislation is a bad idea? Look at the Iraq war crowd supporting it," wrote Kahl, linking to the LobeLog post.

Headlined "Neocons Who Brought You The Iraq War Endorse AIPAC's Iran Bill," the blog post claimed that "the Israel lobby, for which AIPAC is the vanguard, are flogging as hard as they possibly can" for the bill.

After Romney referred to Russia as America's "number one geopolitical foe" in 2012, Kahl mocked the then-presidential candidate's "Cold War-era talking points" and claimed the remark was "yet another example of Mitt Romney's willingness to say anything to get elected, no matter how reckless it may be."

Kahl's tweets took aim at other individual Republican senators, including Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who have both publicly opposed his nomination. He also derided Republicans as the "party of ethnic cleansing" and claimed "hawks in Congress … won't be satisfied until they get the war they've pushed for decades."

Kahl has also faced criticism over his policies from pro-Israel groups, military veterans in Congress, and Iranian dissidents.

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R., Texas), a retired Navy rear admiral who served as a White House physician for Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, told the Washington Free Beacon that it would be "irresponsible to confirm a chief architect of this defective [Iran nuclear] deal to run what is supposed to be a nonpartisan policy shop at the Department of Defense."