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Senate panel ties on embattled Pentagon nominee

Senate panel ties on embattled Pentagon nominee
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The Senate Armed Services Committee deadlocked Wednesday in a vote on President BidenJoe BidenBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Olympics, climate on the agenda for Biden meeting with Japanese PM Boehner on Afghanistan: 'It's time to pull out the troops' MORE’s nominee to lead the Pentagon’s policy shop.

The panel's closed-door vote resulted in a 13-13 tie along party lines on whether to advance Colin Kahl’s nomination to be undersecretary of Defense for policy, the committee said.

The tie vote means Kahl will have to overcome an additional procedural hurdle on the Senate floor as Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Capitol Police officer killed in car attack lies in honor in Capitol Rotunda MORE (D-N.Y.) must hold a vote to discharge the nomination from the committee.

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The vote would serve to keep the nomination alive in a 50-50 Senate.  

Republicans unified against Kahl after criticizing him for fiery tweets lambasting the Trump administration, as well as his support for the Iran nuclear deal.

“The Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are united in their opposition to the nomination of Dr. Colin Kahl to serve as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy – the number-three civilian position across the entire Pentagon,” Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike MORE (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

“We’ve each had a chance to hear from him – whether one on one, at his nomination hearing or both – and we all agree that he has neither the disposition nor judgment to serve in this critical position at this critical time," he added. "This is not a position we take lightly, but we urge our colleagues to reject this nomination when it comes to the floor.”

Republicans further characterized Kahl’s tweets as partisan outbursts unbefitting of a top Pentagon official, pointing to posts 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.

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Democrats have largely dismissed criticism of Kahl as hypocritical, saying that 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.

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. If both parties hold their respective lines, Vice President Harris would need to cast a tie breaking vote.

The fate of the Biden nominee's confirmation was almost imperiled by centrist Democrat Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats 'Just say no' just won't work for Senate Republicans The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring MORE (W.Va.) after spending weeks undecided on Kahl.  

However, Manchin told reporters on Wednesday following the vote that he supported Kahl following personal talks with the nominee. 

Manchin said he and Kahl discussed their differing views on the Iran nuclear deal, which Manchin has opposed. They also discussed Trump's efforts to withdraw from Syria and abandon the United States's Kurdish partners, Manchin said. The West Virginian senator said he disagreed with the former president's move. 

"I said, 'I just want to make sure I have an open dialogue with you,' " Manchin said of his conversations with Kahl. 

On Kahl's tweets, Manchin said he told the nominee, "I don't know why you felt you had to interject," but that he knows Kahl has Biden's "trust and confidence" and he "has the qualifications and has the expertise to be very helpful."

"It was not an easy decision, trust me," Manchin said.

Amid the Republican opposition, Manchin became the focus of a fierce lobbying campaign from both sides of the aisle. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called Manchin earlier this month to press him to support Kahl. More than 50 former national security officials, diplomats and lawmakers, as well as Jewish community leaders, also sent a letter last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee calling Kahl “eminently qualified” and arguing he is the target of a “smear campaign.”

Christians United for Israel 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 from 70 Republican West Virginia state lawmakers opposing Kahl.

It is unclear when the full Senate will take up Kahl’s nomination.

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Asked by reporters when the nomination will be on the floor, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedBiden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Overnight Defense: Biden nominating first female Army secretary | Israel gets tough on Iran amid nuclear talks | Army's top enlisted soldier 'very proud' of officer pepper sprayed by police On The Money: CDC extends coronavirus eviction ban through June 30 | Biden to detail infrastructure proposal Wednesday | US won't quickly lift Trump tariffs on China MORE (D-R.I.) told reporters he didn’t know, deferring to Schumer.

“It's gonna be a function of when, with what time, what Sen. Schumer's plans are,” Reed said. “It's formally out of committee under the rules. It is now essentially on the desk ready for discharge if that's his decision, and when is his decision also. 

Updated 2:14 p.m.