This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.
Over the past four years, Senate Republicans largely rubber stamped President Trump’s appointments regardless of inexperience, blatant conflicts of interests, or bigoted statements and views. Now, many Republicans are objecting to Biden’s qualified nominees and are trying to use them as a proxy fight for Biden’s policies that they disagree with. Most recently, Senate Republicans have set up to oppose Colin Kahl, Biden’s nominee for under secretary of Defense — as they try to battle out Biden’s Iran policies through his confirmation.
Many of Trump’s nominees for national security and defense roles were particularly concerning. Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, now best known for obstructing the Mueller investigation — which Trump pardoned him for before leaving office — and amplifying QAnon conspiracy theories about the election, was Trump’s nominee for national security advisor. He had plenty of controversies that should have been disqualifying, from referring to the religion of Islam as a “malignant cancer,” to questionable dealings with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign to which he served as an advisor, to failing to disclose that he was lobbying for Turkey.
After serving as the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council (NSC), Kash Patel went on to serve as the chief of staff to Christopher Miller, acting secretary of Defense. Patel’s role in encouraging the Trump administration to delay military aid to Ukraine — an offense Trump went on to be impeached for — was apparently not enough to disqualify him. Additionally, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, known for providing intelligence materials to then-House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), who then used these materials to claim that U.S. intelligence officials improperly surveilled Trump associates, was later named acting under secretary of defense for intelligence and security, a job his controversial background should have disqualified him from.
Trump nominated Anthony Tata for under secretary for policy, only later having to pull his nomination after his history of extreme right-wing views and conspiracy theories came to light. Some of Tata’s greatest hits include calling President Obama “a terrorist leader,” and Islam “the most oppressive violent religion that I know of.”
Even when some nominees were too extreme, like Tata and Cohen-Watnick, Trump often allowed them to serve in acting capacities, circumventing the confirmation process. When Tata rescinded his nomination for under secretary, his chance of serving in a presidential administration should have been over, yet he was rewarded by being appointed as acting deputy under secretary for policy.
In fact, of the 60 confirmed roles in the Pentagon, 21 — more than one-third — had no permanent appointee as of early 2020. For 13 of those roles, the Trump administration hadn’t even identified a nominee. By the time Trump ended his administration, the number of vacancies had risen to 40 percent with 23 of 60 roles filled by acting officials. This was Trump’s preferred method, noting, “I like ‘acting’ because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility.”
After four years of turning a blind eye to Trump skirting their own oversight, Senate Republicans have suddenly had a change of heart in the role they play in the confirmation process, and have set their sights on torpedoing the confirmation of Colin Kahl for under secretary of Defense. During his nomination hearing Thursday, Republican senators attacked Kahl, resorting to hypocritical attacks regarding his tweets and claiming Kahl is “too partisan,” after four years of standing behind Trump’s right-wing extremist nominees and claiming to not see the President’s often offensive tweets. Republicans have already signaled that their opposition to Kahl has little to do with his experience, but instead that they want to make it a proxy fight over President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.
The Senate is already significantly behind in the confirmation process because Senate Republicans sat on their hands during the lame duck period while they remained in power instead of moving nominations forward. Even after losing the majority, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell held onto his last bit of power by refusing to agree to a simple organizing resolution for weeks that would give Democrats the Committee gavels. Fast forward nearly a month and a half into his administration, and Biden still remains without a full Cabinet in place.
President Biden has selected a diverse slate of qualified individuals to fill some of the top national security roles in his administration. He deserves the same opportunity that previous administrations were offered in filling his Cabinet, and Senate Republicans must stop the obstruction to ensure the Biden administration can get to work for the American people.
Jim Manley is a 21-year veteran of Capitol Hill, who served as an aide to Senator Ted Kennedy and Leader Harry Reid. He is currently a public affairs consultant at his own firm in Washington D.C.