Biden Pick for Key Pentagon Job Barely Holds On in Tie Vote
(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s pick for a senior Pentagon position barely got through his committee nomination process, as senators deadlocked on whether to advance his candidacy.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s vote on the nomination of Colin Kahl tied at 13-13 on Wednesday. But Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can call for a “discharge” vote by the full Senate to bring the nomination to the floor, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters there’s no consideration of withdrawing Kahl’s nomination.
The tight vote exposed the precarious power dynamics in Biden’s Washington, as Republican unity against his confirmation gives some Democrats out-sized influence over whether he or other nominees will go forward. With the Senate evenly divided, a tie vote on the floor of the Senate would require Vice President Kamala Harris to cast a deciding vote.
Kahl’s nomination for under secretary of defense for policy looked rocky from the beginning. At his confirmation hearing on March 4, he was assailed for the type of “mean tweets” that derailed the nomination of another Biden nominee, Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget. At Kahl’s hearing, Senator James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services panel, accused him of “hyper-partisanship.”
After Wednesday’s vote, Inhofe of Oklahoma said in a statement that committee Republicans “all agree that he has neither the disposition nor judgment to serve in this critical position at this critical time. This is not a position we take lightly, but we urge our colleagues to reject this nomination when it comes to the floor.”
But Psaki told reporters that “Colin is qualified. He’s experienced. And he would bring an incredible reservoir of perspective to the job at the Department of Defense, and so we look forward to his confirmation.”
Another hurdle cropped up this week, as Kahl found himself rejecting accusations that he’d revealed classified information in a series of tweets.
“I have never publicly shared information I knew to be classified and take my obligations to protect classified information seriously,” Kahl wrote in a letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate committee.
Kahl was responding in the letter to Senator Bill Hagerty, a freshman Republican from Tennessee, who’d flagged tweets he said published sensitive information from National Security Council meetings while former President Donald Trump was in office.
Kahl said his tweets cited publicly available information, including news articles, concerning operations in Yemen and Trump’s preferences for how he received his daily intelligence briefing.
“I was not present for the interagency meetings mentioned in the letter or in the referenced tweets,” Kahl said in the letter to Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Inhofe. “I had no direct access to any information in those meetings that may or may not have been classified.”
Members of the Biden administration have been lobbying senators for their support of Kahl’s nomination, focusing efforts on Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a conservative Democrat who has emerged as a key swing vote in the chamber.
Manchin told reporters Wednesday that he disagreed with Kahl on the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which Kahl helped shape, but agreed on other issues, such as protecting the Kurds in Syria. He said he told Kahl that “I just want to make sure I have an open dialogue with you.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his top deputy Kathy Hicks sailed through the Senate; Kahl would be the first top official in their circle to have serious trouble getting through.
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