Top Democrat optimistic Pentagon policy nominee will get 'fair shot' amid GOP opposition

Top Democrat optimistic Pentagon policy nominee will get 'fair shot' amid GOP opposition
© Greg Nash

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is hopeful President BidenJoe BidenFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Romney tests positive for coronavirus Pelosi sidesteps progressives' March 1 deadline for Build Back Better MORE’s nominee to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop will get a “fair shot” after Republican opposition to the pick emerged.

“I'm hopeful he can get through. I mean, I think he's a very talented individual, no question about that. I think he's got great experience,” committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedDefense bill sets up next fight over military justice  Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE (D-R.I.) told reporters Wednesday about Colin Kahl, Biden’s nominee for under secretary of Defense for policy.

“I think he’ll get a fair shot at the hearing, frankly,” Reed added.

ADVERTISEMENT

Reed’s comments come after Politico first reported Tuesday night that Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia Biden sparks confusion, cleanup on Russia-Ukraine remarks Republicans say Mayorkas failed to deliver report on evacuated Afghans MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the committee, has “serious concerns” about Kahl, among growing GOP opposition over Kahl’s involvement in boosting the Iran nuclear deal and other Middle East policy positions.

“Sen. Inhofe is still reviewing Mr. Kahl’s nomination closely and looks forward to hearing from him in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson for Inhofe confirmed in a statement to The Hill. “He does have serious concerns with some of the policy positions that Mr. Kahl has taken in the past.”

The under secretary for policy is widely considered the third most powerful civilian role at the Pentagon.

The post saw considerable turmoil during the Trump administration after John Rood was forced out of the job in February 2020 during then-President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer chairman of Wisconsin GOP party signals he will comply with Jan. 6 committee subpoena Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon tells Russia to stand down Billionaire GOP donor maxed out to Manchin following his Build Back Better opposition MORE’s purges in the wake of his first impeachment. 

Trump’s nominee to replace Rood, Anthony Tata, failed after inflammatory and racist tweets resurfaced, but Trump later installed him as acting under secretary for policy after the previous acting official resigned during the post-election Pentagon purge.

During the Obama administration, Kahl served as Biden’s national security adviser. Before that job, he was deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East.

Kahl's role at the White House saw him as a staunch supporter of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and he continued to publicly advocate for the deal while Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018.

Since Trump withdrew from the deal, Iran has breached limits on uranium enrichment and begun to limit access for international nuclear inspectors, steps it says are reversible if the United States rejoins the agreement.

Biden and other administration officials have said they would rejoin the deal if Iran comes back into compliance, but the two sides are in standoff about who will make the first move, as Iran insists the United States should go first since it left first.

Republicans have stepped up criticism of Biden’s efforts to revive the nuclear deal after he accepted an invitation from the European Union to participate in talks with Iran and other signatories of the deal.

ADVERTISEMENT

Asked whether he thinks opposition to Kahl is related more to opposition to the nuclear deal than Kahl himself, Reed said it’s “very difficult thing to separate, frankly, in terms of motivations around here.”

“The committee hearing will be absolutely critical and crucial because he'll have an opportunity to explain his positions,” Reed said. “I think he brings to the job several key factors. One, knowledge. Two, experience. And three, he's had a long relationship with the president, and I think that'll help the department in terms of working more closely with the White House.

"So all those factors, I think, will be weighed in," he continued, "but we have the process, we'll have the hearing, and I think we hope, I hope, his positions come through clear and that he gets the support he needs.”

With the Senate divided 50-50, Republican opposition en masse could doom a nominee if just one Democrat opposes the pick. Biden’s nominee to be budget director, Neera TandenNeera TandenBiden to sign order to streamline government services to public Politics, media worlds react to Wallace news Biden's head of personnel to leave White House for UNICEF MORE, is in peril after Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinPelosi sidesteps progressives' March 1 deadline for Build Back Better On The Money — Fed's inflation tracker at fastest pace since '82 Billionaire GOP donor maxed out to Manchin following his Build Back Better opposition MORE (D-W.Va.) announced his opposition, for example.

Meanwhile, Biden has not announced any Pentagon nominees beyond the three he chose before his inauguration — Kahl, Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBelarusian president vows war if Russia, Belarus attacked Biden says he'll send troops to Eastern Europe in 'near term' Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon tells Russia to stand down MORE and Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks — raising concerns about the slow pace of filling critical national security jobs.

Reed attributed the delay in part to the messy transition process, but said “we need the nominees as quickly as possible.”

“We've got the obligation mutually. They have to send the nominees off, and then we have to move aggressively, and we will,” he said. “The Department of Defense, both sides have recognized that regardless of how you feel about the nominee, we should try to expedite the nominations, get them to the floor, get them passed. We did that with Secretary Austin and with Kath Hicks, and I think that will be the case in most cases, if not all.”