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Senate Foreign Relations approves Lew to be Israel envoy

Despite opposition, Republicans allow speedy vote on nominee

Jacob J. Lew received only one Republican vote as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Jacob J. Lew received only one Republican vote as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday advanced the nomination of former Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel, at one of the most perilous moments in the Jewish state’s history.

The committee approved Lew by a mostly partisan vote of 12-9. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote in support of the nomination. 

Lew’s work during the Obama administration in implementing the sanctions relief the U.S. agreed to provide to Iran as part of the multinational nuclear deal was the source of much of the GOP grievances against the longtime senior Democratic official.

But the urgency of the moment, when the Biden administration is working to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from expanding to include the likes of Hezbollah and Iran and to protect the approximately 600,000 U.S. citizens in Israel, convinced Republicans not to stall the nomination.

“We processed questions for the record in a record period of time,” said acting Foreign Relations Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md. “Any member of this committee could have held over that nomination, and they chose not to do it. I just want to thank the cooperation of the membership and the recognition of the urgency of the nomination.”

Cardin said the committee had officially received the nomination just two weeks ago, after Lew was nominated by the White House in September. He thanked ranking Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho for agreeing to allow a speedy confirmation hearing and vote, despite Risch’s own reservations about Lew.

Cardin praised Lew and said his “political acumen and gravitas” made him well-suited to the ambassador post at such a pivotal and consequential time for Israel and U.S. policy toward the Middle East.

Lew has held senior roles in multiple Democratic administrations. He served as Treasury secretary and White House chief of staff during the Obama administration and was the director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration.

Risch spoke against the Lew nomination but also acknowledged the urgency.

He reiterated his previous criticism about Lew’s work on the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and questioned whether the former Treasury secretary had been truthful to the committee about what exactly his staff was telling foreign banks about the type of sanctions relief Tehran was entitled to as part of the deal.  

“I’m going to vote today to support Israel. I’m going to vote ‘no’ on Mr. Lew’s nomination to this post,” Risch said. “I think it should be someone who the Israelis will have trust in, and just as importantly, that this committee can have trust in.”

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