In a statement following the vote, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was “disappointed” Kahl’s nomination was approved and highlighted the new official’s lack of support among Republicans, who all opposed him in the committee and on the floor.
“The Under Secretary of Defense for Policy position has always, until now, received bipartisan support during the confirmation process,” Inhofe said. “That Dr. Kahl did not garner a single Republican vote — that is really saying something.”
Still, the Oklahoma Republican vowed to “work in good faith” with Kahl.
“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,” Inhofe said. “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.”
A procedural vote to permit his nomination last week broke evenly along party lines and was only successful after Vice President Kamala Harris broke the 50-50 tie.
With several GOP absences on Tuesday, however, Kahl was confirmed with several votes to spare.
After a turbulent confirmation hearing in early March, uniform GOP resistance drew out Kahl’s confirmation process. Republicans argued Kahl lacked the temperament and policy judgment for the senior post — pointing to his advocacy for the 2015 Iran nuclear pact that former President Donald Trump scrapped, his warnings that aggressive actions by the Trump administration could lead to war with Iran, and his opposition to moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Republicans have also hammered Kahl over past tweets that criticize Trump’s national security policies and GOP lawmakers, contending they show he isn’t up to a job that requires solid relationships with both parties. Kahl apologized for his online rhetoric at his confirmation hearing.
Democrats, meanwhile, have backed Kahl and argue he’s well-qualified for the top policy job. His allies, including former defense and foreign policy officials in both parties, argue Kahl has been the target of a “smear campaign” and that his nomination is being used in a proxy battle over the Iran nuclear agreement, just as the Biden administration is seeking to reconstitute the deal.
Kahl will get on the job as the Pentagon looks to finalize its share of the Biden administration’s fiscal 2022 budget request in the coming weeks. Pentagon officials are also set to review a bevy of plans crafted by the Trump administration, including a nuclear weapons blueprint and ambitious shipbuilding plans that grow the Navy to more than 500 manned and unmanned ships.
Under Biden, the Pentagon has scrapped a plan to withdraw thousands of troops from Germany and is carrying out Biden’s orders to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the fall.
Kahl’s confirmation gives Biden his top three Pentagon officials just over three months since his swearing in. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was confirmed in January and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks was swiftly confirmed in February.
Biden is outpacing Trump in nominations and confirmations for the senior rungs of the Pentagon. At this point in Trump’s presidency, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was the only nominee to have been confirmed by the Senate.