Collins opposes Pentagon policy nominee

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Greg Nash

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is coming out against President Biden’s nominee to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop, narrowing Colin Kahl’s path to confirmation for what’s considered the Defense Department’s third most powerful civilian job.

In a statement Friday, Collins said she has “significant concerns” about Kahl’s positions on Iran and the Middle East.

“For example, he warned of calamity following the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, when instead we saw historically close Arab-Israeli ties in 2020,” she said.

Collins also appeared to allude to tweets from Kahl that were highly critical of the Trump administration and that Republicans have argued show he is unfit for the job.

“Some of Dr. Kahl’s actions have raised questions about his ability to work with Congress in a thoughtful and productive manner,” the Maine senator said. “If America is going to successfully confront our toughest national security challenges, we need a nominee for this position who will help bring Republicans and Democrats together.”

Collins’s position was first reported by Politico.

The opposition from a Republican often considered a swing vote makes it increasingly likely Kahl’s nomination to be under secretary of Defense for policy will come down to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who told reporters Thursday he remains undecided.

Kahl does not need Republican support to be confirmed. But with a 50-50 party split in the Senate, he cannot afford to lose any Democratic votes if all Republicans oppose him.

Kahl’s nomination has stalled amid fierce opposition from Republicans over what they describe as partisan outbursts on Twitter.

Republicans have pointed to tweets such as one where Kahl said Republicans “debase themselves at the altar of Trump” and called the GOP the “party of ethnic cleansing” in response to a news story on Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) defending then-President Trump’s decision to move troops out of northern Syria ahead of a Turkish invasion.

During his confirmation hearing, Kahl apologized for the “disrespectful” language in his tweets and pledged to approach the Pentagon job in a nonpartisan way, saying his past government service demonstrates his ability to do so.

Kahl served as Biden’s national security adviser when he was vice president and before that was the Obama administration’s deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East.

Democrats have largely dismissed criticism of Kahl as hypocritical after most GOP lawmakers stayed silent on Trump’s own inflammatory tweets. Democrats have also said the nomination is being used as a proxy for Republican opposition to Biden’s efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Amid Republican opposition, Manchin has become the focus of a fierce lobbying campaign on Kahl. Manchin helped sink Biden’s first nominee to budget director, Neera Tanden, after he joined with Republicans in opposing her, in part over past tweets.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called Manchin last week to press him to support Kahl.

On the other side, Christians United for Israel has placed full page ads in newspapers across West Virginia urging people to contact Manchin in opposition to Kahl, accusing the nominee of “hostility” toward Israel. The same group also backed a letter sent to Manchin last week from 70 Republican West Virginia state lawmakers opposing Kahl.

Rebutting that criticism, more than 50 former national security officials, diplomats and lawmakers, as well as Jewish community leaders, sent a letter Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee calling Kahl “eminently qualified” and arguing he is the target of a “smear campaign.”

Tags biden appointee Biden nominees Colin Kahl Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Cornyn Lloyd Austin Neera Tanden Susan Collins
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