Sen. Jim Risch (Idaho) criticized his fellow Republican senators Saturday, saying he disagreed with their blockade on President Joe Biden’s diplomatic nominees.
“I have been a critic of this since I started on the Foreign Relations Committee,” said Risch, who is the top Republican on the committee. “I was a governor. I understand you have to have a team in place in order to govern.”
Biden has more than 50 foreign policy nominees stalled in the Senate, according to Politico. To be sure, the holdup here isn’t Risch; it’s Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) who have objected to the nominees and, as allowed under Senate rules, are able to slow down the confirmation process.
Their objections are not about the individuals but about larger issues around foreign policy (such as trying to get top Biden administration officials to resign).
In his remarks at the Halifax International Security Forum, Risch added that he has been “as energetic as I can about getting these [nominations] through.”
But Risch is part of the holdup on another nominee ― Dilawar Syed, whom Biden nominated in March to be deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration.
If approved, Syed would become the highest-ranking Muslim administration official.
He has been waiting for confirmation longer than any other Biden nominee, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which tracks wait times.
On five occasions, GOP senators on the Small Business Committee have refused to show up for meetings. The committee is evenly divided ― 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans ― so Democrats need at least one Republican to come so that they have a quorum and are able to conduct business.
Therefore, Syed hasn’t been able to advance to the Senate floor for a full vote because Republicans refuse to even allow a committee vote on him.
Republicans, led by ranking member Rand Paul (Ky.), say they don’t object to Syed but are trying to pressure the administration on some loans given to Planned Parenthood.
Risch is on the Small Business Committee and could break the GOP blockade of the type he has decried on foreign policy nominees. All he has to do is show up to a committee meeting. He doesn’t even have to vote “yes” on Syed.
White House spokesman Chris Meagher questioned Risch’s stance on Syed Sunday, tweeting that while he appreciates Risch’s belief that Biden “is entitled to having his team in place,” why then, “as 1 of GOP leaders on the Senate Small Business Committee, does he continue to refuse to even allow a vote on SBA Dep. Administrator nominee as many small businesses are struggling?”
Risch spokesman Marty Cozza argued that in both cases, the senator was “respecting Senate traditions and norms regardless of personal preference.”
“As ranking member of Foreign Relations, he was helpful getting nominees through committee, and respects members’ rights as senators to slow down the process on the floor,” Cozza said.
“In regard to the Small Business Committee, supporting your ranking member to accomplish a reasonable goal is a tradition as old as the Senate. The ranking member of SBC is leading committee Republicans to accomplish a reasonable goal: to receive answers from the SBA about $100 million in unlawful PPP loans to Planned Parenthood, and Senator Risch supports the Ranking Member in his efforts to get answers,” she added.
Syed is a Pakistani American businessman who has stepped into public service roles both in 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.
Republicans say they 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, not Biden’s. 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.
The Trump administration later tried to demand that Planned Parenthood affiliates return the money. They refused to do, saying they had obtained the loans legally under the original terms of the policy.
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 Emgage Action, 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.
In July, American Jewish Committee, a Jewish advocacy group, said that while it “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 un-American that AJC is compelled to speak out.”
Syed is running out of time. Democrats on the Small Business Committee once again failed to move forward on Syed’s nomination last week, and the year is almost up. If Syed does not get confirmed this year, the president would have to resubmit his nomination in 2022.
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