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Republicans stall SBA nominee, citing Planned Parenthood loans, Muslim group

Hawley objects to Syed's ties to Muslim get-out-the-vote group

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said accusations of antisemitism involving a Muslim organization with which SBA nominee Dilawar Syed has been affiliated were "scandalous and outrageous and wrong."
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said accusations of antisemitism involving a Muslim organization with which SBA nominee Dilawar Syed has been affiliated were "scandalous and outrageous and wrong." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans on Thursday again boycotted a committee vote to advance Dilawar Syed to be deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, stalling action on a nominee who would be the highest-ranking Muslim in the Biden administration amid accusations of bigotry from some groups. 

Republicans on the Small Business Committee say they’ll also skip the next vote on Syed, scheduled for Nov. 17, unless the SBA releases documents detailing Paycheck Protection Program loans that went to Planned Parenthood affiliates. The agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.  

“We’ve been asking for documents about Planned Parenthood illegally getting money from the Small Business Administration, and they’ve not given us any, zero,” said committee ranking member Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. “That’s why he’s sort of in the mix of that. He also would oversee some of those programs. We haven’t gotten assurances from him that he’ll give more information either.” 

But Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he objects to Syed’s affiliation with EmgageUSA, a Muslim get-out-the-vote organization. Hawley said the group made antisemitic comments when criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. 

More than 200 civil rights, Jewish and other faith-based organizations rejected those claims in an August letter to the committee, saying the Republican boycott was “tinged with religious bigotry and xenophobia” and “flagrant anti-Muslim animus.”

“Everybody can make their own assessment, but I’ve got to be responsible for my vote,” Hawley said in an interview.

Small Business Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said there’s no basis for the claims of antisemitism. 

“They did say certain things about Mr. Syed that was absolutely scandalous and outrageous and wrong. That’s where I think some of the Jewish groups and some of the Islamic concerns have been raised,” he said. “But once they start this, it gets a life of its own. So yes, that’s been part of it.”

Republicans have boycotted previous committee votes on Syed, denying Democrats the quorum they need to hold a roll call vote that would advance the nomination to the floor. Paul also blocked Cardin’s effort in September to bring Syed’s nomination directly to the Senate floor by objecting to the Maryland Democrat’s request for unanimous consent. 

Cardin said in an interview that Republicans’ boycott was “outrageous and wrong.”

“The use of this tactic to break a quorum where the person is clearly qualified is unprecedented,” he said. “The way they’re conducting themselves is just not in the tradition of the Senate.”

More than 200 organizations endorsed Syed’s nomination, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Small Business Association. If confirmed, Syed would bring both private sector and civic experience to the role. 

Syed is now the CEO of Lumiata, a health care company that uses artificial intelligence. In the public sector, Syed worked on two White House advisory groups during the Obama administration and was the founding chair of the California Entrepreneurship Task Force.

Cardin said committee Democrats have offered Republicans everything they have on the Planned Parenthood loans. 

“Sen. Paul has requested certain information that has been made available to him,” Cardin said.  “He keeps changing the goalposts as to what he needs.”

Committee Republicans varied on whether they objected to Syed specifically or were holding up his nomination as part of a larger protest against the SBA’s conduct. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he wants details from the SBA itself on how many loans the agency provided to Planned Parenthood affiliates and what criteria it used to determine eligibility. 

“He’s handed over the documents that he has, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re not responsive to our question,” Rubio said of Cardin. “I’m going to continue to object to that and any other nominations that come up until we get our answers.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said she has no objection to Syed personally but that Republicans were no nearer to a deal with committee Democrats. 

“I don’t think we are close to getting what we need to take a vote,” she said in an interview. “The Small Business Administration had given PPP loans to Planned Parenthood, when clearly they are not eligible for taxpayer dollars through that program. So we are trying to find information on that. That should be easily available to the SBA.”

FiscalNote, the parent company of CQ Roll Call, received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., said he opposed the nomination for “a long list of things” that he did not specify.

“This is one that is 100 percent partisan,” he said in an interview, adding that the rescheduled vote falls on his birthday. “My birthday wish is don’t show up.”

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