Colin Kahl Is Second Joe Biden Nominee Grilled Over Tweets After Neera Tanden

Colin Kahl became the second of President Joe Biden's nominees forced to answer for his tweets at his confirmation hearing, days after Neera Tanden withdrew her candidacy for director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) following scrutiny over her past social media conduct.

Kahl, who is Biden's pick for under secretary of defense for policy—a top policy role within the Defense Department—apologized before the Senate Armed Services Committee after Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) displayed previous tweets criticizing former President Donald Trump's policies and the GOP.

In 2019, Kahl shared a news story in which Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said it was not a "bad idea" for U.S. troops to be "out of harm's way" if Turkey attempted to "ethnically cleanse" Kurds in Syria.

"The GOP used to pride itself as a party that put values front and center in US foreign policy," Kahl tweeted in response to Cornyn's remarks. "Now—as they debase themselves at the alter of Trump—they are the party of ethnic cleansing."

Also in 2019, Kahl reacted to Trump vetoing a resolution seeking to end military support for the Saudi-led coalition's role in Yemen's war by tweeting: "Every Republican Senator who upheld Trump's veto now shares ownership of the world's worst humanitarian crisis and adds their signature to the blank check Trump has given to Saudi Arabia."

In 2020, Kahl tweeted the following quote from a New York Times op-ed: "The coronavirus is a natural disaster. The Republican Party's death-cult fealty to Trump is wholly man-made."

The GOP used to pride itself as a party that put values front and center in US foreign policy.

Now—as they debase themselves at the alter of Trump—they are the party of ethnic cleansing.

— Colin Kahl (@ColinKahl) October 24, 2019

Cotton accused Kahl of having a "long record of volatile outbursts" that will have a "toxic and detrimental impact" on his relationship with Congress and create a "toxic environment" inside the Pentagon.

"Dr. Kahl, this is not about mean tweets or insulting senators, we're all used to harsh criticism up here," Cotton said. "This is just a small, a very small sample of the many intemperate and unbalanced remarks that you directed at people who disagree with you about public policy. But the job you seek demands a judicious, even-tempered demeanor."

Kahl chalked his tweets up to his getting "swept up" in the past several years' "polarizing" social media climate.

"There were a number of positions that President Trump took that I strongly opposed, I think the language that I used in opposing those was sometimes disrespectful, and for that I apologize," he said.

Other GOP senators followed suit in bringing up Kahl's social media conduct, casting doubt on his ability to fulfill the role with impartiality.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) mentioned a 2018 tweet in which Kahl stated "we are all going to die" if John Bolton replaced H. R. McMaster as national security adviser under the previous administration.

"I think this demonstrates that these exaggerated views and incendiary remarks are not what we are looking for in someone that will serve advising policy within the Department of Defense," Ernst said, adding U.S. troops deserve "someone that will take a serious outlook to policy and not put this kind of garbage out in front of the American public."

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said Kahl had a "history of making what some believe are bad faith arguments" against those he disagreed with.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) denounced Kahl's "inflammatory rhetoric," which she believed was "really not representative of the way a top policy official at the Pentagon should write about policy."

Kahl defended his qualifications for the position by citing his previous roles within the Pentagon.

"Keep in mind, I worked for two Republican secretaries of defense," he said. "I don't think you'll find anybody I worked with, either in the Bush administration or in the Obama administration when I worked for Secretary [Robert] Gates, who would accuse me of being partisan."

GOP senators also latched onto Kahl's previous tweets predicting wars would erupt over Trump's Middle East policies, particularly as they related to Iran. Cotton said Kahl's "judgments about matters of war and peace are almost always wrong." Blackburn deemed it "interesting" how "wrong and off-base" his projections were.

Kahl was grilled for his tweets only two days after Tanden backed out of the OMB director nomination over hers.

The confirmation hearing of Tanden, an active Twitter user, saw criticism from Democratic and Republican senators alike over her combative posts, which targeted politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Tanden announced her decision to withdraw her nomination on Tuesday. In a letter to Biden, she noted it seemed "clear that there is no path forward to gain confirmation."

Colin Kahl participates in Capitol panel
Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for the Middle East Colin Kahl participates in a panel discussion about Iran's nuclear program sponsored by The National Iranian American Council in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill February 21, 2012 in Washington, D.C. As Biden's pick for a top Pentagon policy role, Kahl was grilled by GOP senators for his social media posts. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images