Opinion: The cowardice of Senate Republicans blocking a qualified Muslim’s confirmation
"Dilawar Syed, President Biden’s nominee to be deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, embodies the American Dream. He came to this country 30 years ago from Pakistan in pursuit of education and opportunity and built a successful career as an entrepreneur, starting and running companies specializing in software, health care and artificial intelligence. If confirmed, he would be the highest-ranking Muslim in government.
But Republicans have frozen his nomination in a Senate committee, and some of his backers — including prominent human rights and faith-based groups — say it is precisely because of his background and religion. Mr. Syed was nominated to the SBA’s No. 2 post in March. The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship held a hearing in April and on June 16 favorably voted his nomination out of committee by a voice vote. But the parliamentarian ruled a roll call was required, and Republicans have repeatedly refused to show up for votes, denying the evenly split committee the needed quorum. According to Mr. Syed’s backers, Republican Sens. Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Todd C. Young (Ind.) initially voted to advance Mr. Syed’s nomination, but when we asked their offices if this indeed was true, Mr. Young’s office responded with a joint statement from minority committee members that didn’t answer the question and Ms. Ernst’s office didn’t respond. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) is the ranking Republican on the committee.
So what’s the problem? At first, Republicans said they wanted answers on covid-relief loans to Mr. Syed’s business. When that turned out to be a non-issue — the company was entitled to the SBA loans, and it paid off the debt rather than pushing for it to be forgiven as was allowed — they questioned Mr. Syed’s association with an advocacy group that has been critical of Israel. Religious groups, including prominent Jewish organizations, cried foul and raised alarms about an email circulated among Republican committee staff focusing on Mr. Syed’s religion and place of birth. Among those springing to Mr. Syed’s defense: the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, Bend the Arc. They signed on to a letter to Congress — along with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the NAACP — that voiced support for Mr. Syed and took aim at the anti-Muslim bias coming into play.
With so many Jewish organizations coming to Mr. Syed’s defense, Republicans switched tactics yet again and now claim their opposition is rooted in their objections to SBA covid-relief payments to Planned Parenthood entities. Republicans argue that Democrats, too, have blocked nominations for policy reasons unrelated to an individual nominee. That doesn’t make it right. The SBA’s deputy administrator is responsible for day-to-day operations, and the position has been vacant since April 2018 because of the Trump administration’s failure to put forward a nominee.
If Republicans believe Mr. Syed should not be confirmed, they should show up, vote against him and explain why they are doing so. Apparently, though, they don’t want to be on the record voting against the appointment of someone so eminently qualified, who has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Small Business Association. So they take the coward’s way out."