GOP Press USD Policy Nominee on Nukes, Mean Tweets
WASHINGTON: President Biden’s nominee to run the Pentagon policy office received a rough ride from Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee today over old anti-Trump tweets, the Iran deal, and nuclear modernization.
Several Republicans sought assurance that the Biden administration planned to fund the modernization of the nuclear triad’s air, land and sea-based nuclear missiles, particularly the aging Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), the replacement for the decades-old Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
Kahl said he supported the effort to modernize the entire triad, though he said he would have to read the classified assessments of the GBSD program should he be confirmed before he could give a complete answer.
Pushed by Sen. Tom Cotton to give an unequivocal answer as to whether he supported funding the GBSD program — which several lawmakers and pressed him on — Kahl repeated the answer he gave other lawmakers.
“The triad has been a tried and true bedrock of our deterrence for decades. I think that it’s important to modernize the triad because our adversaries are modernizing their capabilities and we need a hedge against the possibility that one of the other legs of the triad becomes non-viable. So I support the triad in our modernization efforts — my only reason to be cautious was precisely for the reasons that you identified, which is that there’s classified material which is relevant to these systems that I am not privy to,” until confirmed.
The nuke issue has been bubbling since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin gave somewhat vague answers on the issue during his own confirmation hearing last month, telling senators that, while “I personally support the triad,” he has to “look under the hood and see exactly what we’re doing with our nuclear forces.”
An “interim” national security guidance issued by the White House on Wednesday suggests that the Biden team will take a new look at the role of nuclear weapons as part of a broad reassessment of US strategy and force posture.
“Where possible, we will also pursue new arms control arrangements,” the document said, a sharp departure from the Trump administration’s policy of walking away from arms control treaties.
“We will take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, while ensuring our strategic deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective and that our extended deterrence commitments to our allies remain strong and credible,” the document stated.
The nuclear issue promises to be a hot-button topic this year as Congress debates the 2022 defense budget, as Democrats, who now control the White House and both chambers in Congress have expressed skepticism over the issue of funding new nuclear weapons. The issue has the potential to become a deep divide between the two parties in the coming years, as the Pentagon will likely see flat budgets which will require making trades within a steady year-over-year top line.
Two Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Joe Courtney, are expected to introduce legislation today to kill development of a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile set to begin development next year, citing its high cost and overlap with other nuclear weapons. Earlier this week, Democrats Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Ro Khanna called on the White House to scrap another sub-launched nuclear weapon, the low-yield W76-2 warhead, fielded in 2020. The duo also called on Biden to “pause further development” of the GBSD. Elements of the Democratic Party have long tried to kill or curtail elements of America’s nuclear weapons but the mainstay of the party on Capitol Hill has supported the vast majority of spending and policy for them.
After the age when the presidential tweet became a tool policy — if an uncertain one — one thing became clearer at today’s hearing: we have entered the era of mean tweets being used against nominees.
Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the White House budget office, withdrew after coming under fire for combative and insulting tweets about members of both parties ultimately undermined her chances of confirmation.
Republicans have embraced the tweet wars, all but ignoring President Trump’s caustic timeline over the past four years. Trump’s nominee for the Pentagon’s policy job, Anthony Tata, was removed from consideration after his history of racist and inflammatory Tweets about former President Obama, Islam, and then accusing former CIA Director John Brennan, without evidence, of working to order Trump’s assassination surfaced. After the acting policy chief James Anderson resigned in November, Tata ran the policy shop until Biden’s inauguration.
“Your public policy positions have been couched in partisan politics rather than fact-based analysis,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, top Republican on the committee, told Kahl. “Hyper-partisanship, especially in regards to our national security, is inappropriate for a position of undersecretary of defense for policy.”
That line was picked up by Cotton, who said Kahl’s “intemperate manner will create a toxic environment in the Pentagon,” also criticizing his track record on international issues, including the unchecked rise of ISIS during the Obama administration.
Kahl offered an apology, and acknowledged the language he used was “sometimes disrespectful.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii said criticism from Republicans was “pretty rich” in light of Trump’s regular barrage of angry, insulting and false tweets.