Senate confirms highest-ranking Muslim in gov’t after earlier GOP blockade

Senate confirms highest-ranking Muslim in gov’t after earlier GOP blockade

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Thursday confirmed Dilawar Syed as deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, ending more than two years of delays after a blockade by Republicans in the last Congress.

Syed will be the highest-ranking Muslim official in the U.S. government.

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Republicans on the Small Business Committee had blocked his nomination, citing the agency’s payouts to abortion providers and other reasons. President Joe Biden had first nominated the Pakistani-born businessman to the position in March 2021, and he renominated him this year in the new Congress.

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Syed was confirmed 54-42

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, said ahead of the vote that the position of deputy administrator at the SBA has been vacant for nearly five years over two presidential administrations.

“It is about time we get this done,” Cardin said.

Syed’s nomination stalled in committee last Congress after Republicans repeatedly failed to appear for votes. Republicans, led by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — then the panel’s top Republican — gave several different explanations, including Syed’s affiliation with a Muslim advocacy group, small-business loans he received and, finally, the agency’s loans to branches of Planned Parenthood.

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The stalemate led to Democratic charges of anti-Muslim bias and galvanized some Muslim and Jewish organizations to condemn the delay.

Rabbi Jack Moline, then-president of Interfaith Alliance, argued at the time that the inaction was an “excuse for a lot of issues that have nothing to do with suitability for the position.”

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With an increased majority this year that gave Democrats an extra vote on the committee, the panel approved Syed’s nomination in March, two years after he was first nominated. Five Republicans voted to confirm him in Thursday’s final vote.

Republicans on the committee still have objections. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the new top Republican on the business committee, said she believes Syed was slow to disclose loans he had received and was not forthcoming enough in questioning as the committee has been concerned about potentially fraudulent pandemic loans.

“I’m not convinced Mr. Syed is ready and willing to change the SBA’s culture and bring much-needed accountability to the agency,” Ernst said.

Lina Khan, the chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, is also Muslim.

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Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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