Senate Democrats will try to move forward Thursday on the nomination of Dilawar Syed, who would become the highest-ranking Muslim official in the administration if confirmed.
The problem, however, is that Republicans have blocked him from receiving a vote. On at least three occasions, they have refused to show up to Senate Small Business Committee hearings, denying a quorum for senators to meet and conduct business.
And it’s not clear Thursday will be any different.
Syed is a Pakistani American businessman who has stepped into public service roles in both California and at the federal level, leading engagement with small businesses for President Barack Obama’s administration after the passage of the 2009 stimulus package. He is also co-founder of AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC dedicated to mobilizing Asian American voters.
Republican senators’ reasons for blocking Syed have shifted over time. They now say they will oppose filling the deputy SBA job until the Biden administration commits to taking back loans to some Planned Parenthood affiliates under the Paycheck Protection Program.
The loans, however, were handed out during President Donald Trump’s administration. They were meant to help small businesses keep employees on their payrolls during the pandemic. Planned Parenthood’s affiliates are nonprofit organizations with leadership and funding structures separate from the national group, but Republicans say they are too closely tied and should not have received the money.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the ranking member of the small business committee, told HuffPost Wednesday that he still wasn’t satisfied with the response he’s received from the Biden administration on Planned Parenthood ― suggesting that Syed will still be blocked Thursday.
“They haven’t been forthcoming on any of this,” he said. “So we’re not really happy with that.”
Paul added that the Small Business Administration has promised him more information about the Planned Parenthood loans, and Syed’s nomination “has been held up primarily because they have not been forthcoming with that information.”
But previously, Republicans had another reason for opposing Syed that was more directly about him: They questioned his allegiances because of his Muslim faith and implied that he might be anti-Israel because of his work with a Muslim advocacy group. GOP senators backed away from that line of attack, however, when Jewish and other religious and civil rights organizations came to Syed’s defense.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called out Republicans in floor remarks Wednesday, saying their blockade of Syed “confound[s] common sense.”
“They’re just not even meeting, and that holds his nomination up,” Schumer said. “I haven’t heard of that happening in a very long time. And to date, what is so confounding ... is that these Republicans who are holding Mr. Syed up have failed to offer a clear reason why they oppose him. Each time, they try to come up with an explanation ― whether it’s cheap ad hominem attacks or partisan tie-ins to the culture wars, their arguments fall flat and are easily refuted.”
In late September, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the committee’s chair, asked for unanimous consent on the Senate floor to move forward on Syed and go around the GOP senators on the committee. Paul, however, objected.