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Biden’s pick for top Pentagon policy job apologizes for past tweets at confirmation hearing

President Joe Biden‘s nominee to become the top policy official at the Pentagon, Colin Kahl, apologized to Republican senators for using “sometimes disrespectful” language in tweets criticizing several Trump administration defense policy decisions after he was grilled in his confirmation hearing on Thursday.

The tweets were brought up during the hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, cited a tweet where Kahl said the “Republican party has debased itself at the altar of Trump,” and is the party of “ethnic cleansing,” in response to a story about Syria. In a separate tweet, Kahl accused Republican senators who upheld former President Donald Trump’s veto of a resolution that would have limited the former President’s ability to support Saudi Arabia in the ongoing conflict in Yemen as “owning the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Cotton said during the hearing.

“Dr. Kahl, this is not about mean tweets or insulting senators, we are all used to harsh criticism up here. This is just a small, a very small sample of the many intemperate and unbalanced remarks that you’ve directed at people who disagree with you about public policy,” Cotton said.

If confirmed, Kahl would serve as under secretary of defense for policy focused on policy issues, working closely with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Republican criticism of Kahl’s past tweets comes after the White House withdrew their nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget earlier this week. Tanden’s nomination was pulled after several Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia raised concerns about her past comments and posts on social media.

“I think this demonstrates that these exaggerated views and incendiary remarks are not what we’re looking for in someone that will serve advising policy within the Department of Defense,” Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, said, referring to a tweet where Kahl had said if John Bolton replaced HR McMaster on the National Security Council during the Trump administration “we’re all going to die.”

Kahl apologized for his past remarks, saying the language he used in opposing some of Trump’s policy decisions, including leaving the Iran nuclear deal and the killing of Iran’s top military leader Qasem Soleimani last year, was “sometimes disrespectful.”

“To state the obvious, the last few years have been pretty polarizing on social media, I’m sure there are times that I got swept up in that,” Kahl said. “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.”

Kahl said he understands the role he hopes to serve in requires him “to be nonpartisan in the halls of the Pentagon” and “bipartisan working with this committee and others in Congress.” Kahl said he knows he can do the job in a professional way because of his previous roles at the Pentagon.

Kahl worked at the Pentagon during the George W. Bush administration in the 2000s and under former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during the Obama administration from 2014 to 2017.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said he believed the targeted questions and comments about past tweets from Republican senators were more about Kahl’s views on US policy towards Iran than his past tweets.

“I think your nomination is sort of a proxy for a sharp difference of opinion in this committee and in Congress about the wisdom of the JCPOA, and that is the core of many of the questions today,” Kaine said, referring to the acronym for the Iran nuclear deal.

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