WASHINGTON ― The Senate on Tuesday was poised to confirm Colin Kahl to be the undersecretary of defense for policy as two Republicans were expected to be absent for a pair of votes due to family emergencies.
Vice President Kamala Harris was expected to break a possible 50-50 tie on Kahl’s nomination, but her vote may not be necessary as Republican Sens. Kevin Cramer and Richard Shelby were out of Washington, D.C. Shelby returned to Alabama on Tuesday morning for an unspecified family emergency, and Cramer announced he would be away for the week after his mother died.
“I do not plan to be in Washington, D.C., this week as I attend to family matters. Over the weekend, my Mother Clarice Cramer peacefully passed away after having lived with Alzheimer’s Disease,” Cramer said in a statement. “Our family appreciates the messages of comfort and support we have already received. We are grateful we were able to spend time with our mom during her last days on earth before she went home to be reunited with her husband and the Lord.”
Tight, mostly partisan votes have been a regular feature of the process to confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees. Though it’s possible Democratic senators could miss or skip the two votes on Tuesday ― to close debate and offer final confirmation ― all 50 Senate Democrats appeared to have been present for two votes earlier in the day.
With Kahl’s confirmation, the former national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden will assume the No. 3 civilian job at the Pentagon, overseeing strategy, nuclear deterrence, missile defense, international cooperation, and plans and policies.
After a sometimes tense confirmation hearing, the evenly divided Senate Armed Services Committee deadlocked on Kahl’s nomination. That led to a Senate floor vote last week to discharge Kahl’s nomination from the committee, where Harris did cast a tiebreaking vote.
Senate Republicans have been unified in their opposition to Kahl, who was a vocal supporter of the hot-button Iran nuclear deal. They seized on his history of tweets attacking Republican lawmakers to argue he lacks the judgment and temperament for the job.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a floor speech that nominees for key Department of Defense roles typically receive strong bipartisan support in the Senate and blamed Biden for sending forth such a divisive nominee this time.
“I can’t recall a single nominee for the top DoD position in the past 40 years who didn’t garner at least one vote from the other party,” Inhofe said. “We need nominees who will work with members on both sides of the aisle; those members have to trust that person in return.”
But Democrats accused Republicans of waging a partisan proxy fight over the Iran nuclear deal and Biden’s plan to rejoin it. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., has said Kahl has been the subject of a “smear campaign.”
Ahead of a final vote on Kahl’s confirmation, the National Republican Senatorial Committee painted Kahl as “just another product of Joe Biden’s conveyor belt of radical, unqualified nominees.” Senate Armed Services Committee member Rick Scott, R-Fla., chairs the NRSC.
When Biden announced he was picking Kahl, who also served as deputy assistant to President Barack Obama, Biden said that Kahl and now-Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks would be trusted partners “as we work to restore responsible American leadership on the world stage.”
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