on the hill

After drawn-out battle, Senate confirms Kahl in party-line vote

Republican senators reiterated concerns over Kahl’s past social media activity and views on the Middle East

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP

Colin Kahl, nominee for Defense undersecretary for policy, is seen before his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on Thursday, March 4, 2021.

Over vociferous Republican opposition, the Senate confirmed Colin Kahl as under secretary of defense for policy Tuesday evening, bringing to an end the pitched battle over one of President Joe Biden’s most divisive nominees.

Kahl, who was confirmed by a party-line vote of 49-44, faced a slow path to confirmation amid unanimous GOP opposition and uncertain support from key centrist Democrats. Republican opponents primarily cited Kahl’s history of tweets harshly criticizing Republican lawmakers and his support for the Iran nuclear deal as central concerns. Most recently, several Republicans accused Kahl of leaking classified information and called for his confirmation to be delayed until the FBI investigates.

Republican absences on Tuesday averted the need for Vice President Kamala Harris to break what otherwise would likely have been a tie vote on Kahl, as she did last week on a procedural vote to advance his nomination.

During the pre-vote debate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivered a fiery speech in opposition to the nomination.

“I have come to believe Colin Kahl’s judgment is irreparably marred by obsessive animosity towards Israel. I can think of no other way to explain his years of consistently wrong views regarding the Middle East,” Cruz argued. “I challenge my Democratic colleagues to explain one simple thing: what other explanation, other than animosity to the world’s only Jewish state, could possibly account for all of these staggeringly wrong judgments?”

Kahl’s commentary on Twitter included “a pernicious antisemitic conspiracy theory — a blood libel,” Cruz added. The senator claimed that Kahl is “virulently anti-Israel” and said that Senate Democrats’ support for Kahl indicated that they are not true supporters of Israel.

“You cannot vote to confirm a rabid anti-Israel conspiracy theory-tweeting radical to the number-three position in the Department of Defense and then claim you are a reliable friend of Israel,” Cruz said, pounding his hand on his podium. “He has a lifelong obsession with and antipathy to the State of Israel and he’s demonstrated a willingness to endanger Israeli lives and American lives to advance that hostility.”

The Democratic reaction to Kahl’s confirmation was muted. None of the Senate Democrats contacted by Jewish Insider, including all of the Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, immediately responded to requests for comment on Kahl’s confirmation, nor issued public statements.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), who noted that he has supported the administration’s other Pentagon nominees, also spoke out against Kahl on the floor prior to the vote, describing him as a “political hack” and “partisan internet troll” lacking the “temperament” and “judgment” for the position.

“I believe that he has the potential to be a liability to our national security and our defense and not to be viewed favorably by the men and women he is supposed to lead,” Sullivan said. 

Following the vote, some of Kahl’s GOP opponents pledged to attempt to work productively with him in his new position at the Pentagon.

“I vow to work in good faith with Dr. Kahl and his team, as I do with every Senate-confirmed official at the Department of Defense. In turn, I hope Dr. Kahl intends to do the same — to work closely with all members of the Senate, not just the ones with a ‘D’ next to their name,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said in a statement. “I hope his apology before the committee was sincere and that he approaches this job with better judgment, commitment to bipartisanship and respect than he’s demonstrated so far.”

Others were less magnanimous. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), who led the effort to launch an FBI investigation into Kahl, lambasted both Kahl and Senate Democrats.

“All of my Democrat colleagues have chosen to jeopardize our national security and place Colin Kahl, a known leaker of classified information, as the Pentagon’s third highest-ranking civilian,” Hagerty said. “Instead of simply waiting for the FBI investigation, Senate Democrats, with the help of the vice president last week, chose to force a nominee through whose judgment and temperament are unfit for the job. I fear this is a sad victory for America’s adversaries around the world.”