For months, GOP senators have refused to allow a committee vote for Dilawar Syed to become deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration. In fact, they’ve boycotted three such attempts by refusing to show up and denying Democrats the quorum needed for a vote.
So on Wednesday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) attempted to go around them and ask the Senate for unanimous consent to move forward on Syed.
But Sen. Rand Paul objected, meaning that Syed remains in limbo. His nomination still needs to clear the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship in order to get a vote from the full chamber.
If confirmed, Syed would become the highest-ranking Muslim administration official in U.S. history.
Syed, whom President Joe Biden nominated on March 3, is president and CEO of Lumiata, a health care analytics company, and has stepped into public service roles both in California and at the federal level. He also led engagement with small businesses after the passage of the 2009 stimulus package for then-President Barack Obama’s administration.
Cardin, who chairs the Senate committee, noted that Republicans keep changing their objections to Syed. First, they wanted to investigate the loans he took out as a small-business owner. When the loans turned out to be a nonissue, they started accusing Syed of being anti-Israel, which Cardin called “completely unfounded.”
On June 30, eight of the 10 GOP senators on the committee wrote a letter to Cardin expressing “serious concern” with Syed’s work as a board member for Emgage USA, a group that focuses on increasing Muslim American political engagement. The senators called the organization “vocally anti-Israel” and said they were worried that Syed’s confirmation would “jeopardize small businesses with close ties to Israeli companies or small businesses owned by Jewish Americans.”
The memo came after a staffer for Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) put together a document on Syed’s background earlier that month. The first line of the document, obtained by HuffPost, noted that Syed was born in Pakistan, and the vast majority of the rest of it focused on “very partisan positions” from Emgage ― not anything that Syed actually said. (Politico first reported on the memo’s existence in August.)
Those attacks ― the likes of which practically every Muslim individual involved in politics faces ― were quickly shot down by civil rights groups, including Jewish organizations dedicated to combating antisemitism.
In July, the American Jewish Committee said in a statement that while the advocacy group “does not normally take positions” on nominees, the “accusations around Dilawar Syed’s nomination based on his national origin or involvement in a Muslim advocacy organization are so base and unamerican that AJC is compelled to speak out.”
Republicans have since moved away from that line of criticism. Now, they’re saying that they will oppose filling the deputy SBA job until the Biden administration commits to taking back loans given to some Planned Parenthood affiliates under the Paycheck Protection Program. The loans, which were handed out during the Trump administration, were meant to help small businesses keep employees on their payrolls during the coronavirus pandemic.
Planned Parenthood’s affiliates are nonprofit organizations with leadership and funding structures that are separate from the national federation, but Republicans say they’re too closely tied and should not have received the money.
“Planned Parenthood is not a small business. It’s a big business,” Paul, the committee’s ranking member, said Wednesday on the Senate floor.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) chastised Republicans for holding Syed up over what he “certainly had no control over,” saying they simply wanted to “slow the process.”
As of Sept. 17, Biden has announced nominees for 465 Senate-confirmed jobs. By comparison, George W. Bush had 498 nominees and Obama had 432 nominees around the same time frame during their respective presidencies. (Trump had announced just 338 nominations.) But only 32% of Biden’s nominees have been confirmed so far, compared to 39% for Trump, 58% for Bush and 71% for Obama.
“The partisan, unnecessary and unconscionable inaction of our Republican colleagues shows no concern for the millions of small businesses still relying on SBA support to survive COVID-19 and rebuild their future and who would benefit greatly from having a confirmed deputy administrator to work on the day-to-day operations at the SBA,” Cardin said.