For Fifth Time, GOP Boycotts High-Ranking Muslim Nominee Dilawar Syed

Republican senators have refused to allow Syed to get a committee vote to be deputy administrator for the Small Business Administration.
Senate Republicans have been blocking Dilawar Syed from getting a committee vote.
Senate Republicans have been blocking Dilawar Syed from getting a committee vote.
Eric Risberg/Associated Press

For the fifth time, Senate Republicans blocked Dilawar Syed, the nominee for the No. 2 spot at the Small Business Administration, from advancing out of committee on Wednesday.

Every single Republican on the Senate Small Business Committee skipped the vote for Syed, depriving the committee of a quorum needed to conduct business.

The move means that Syed’s chances are likely over, at least for now. Wednesday’s meeting was expected to be the committee’s last for the year. The White House would have to resubmit Syed’s nomination again in the new year for him to be considered again, and a spokesperson did not return a request for comment on what President Joe Biden planned to do.

“I hope we can find a path forward, but I’m at a loss,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the chair of the committee.

Biden first nominated Syed in March. If confirmed, he would become the highest-ranking Muslim official in the administration. Syed has received wide support from faith groups, civil rights organizations and members of the business community.

Yet Republicans have boycotted committee meetings on five occasions ― twice in July, once in September and twice this month. Therefore, Syed has not even received a vote.

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.

Republican senators’ reasons for blocking Syed have shifted over time, but at no point have they said he is not qualified. They now 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.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the small business committee’s ranking member, told HuffPost recently that he has not been satisfied with the Biden administration’s response to their Planned Parenthood concerns, which is why the blockade continues.

“They haven’t been forthcoming on any of this,” he said. “So we’re not really happy with that.”

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.

“Dilawar has been subject to an unjust smear campaign on the basis of his Islamic faith and Pakistani heritage. We cannot let hate and bigotry win,” said Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Action.

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.”

Cardin said he has worked to provide Paul with information about the Planned Parenthood loans, but that ultimately, they cannot force the SBA to take back loans that were legally given.

He also noted that in June, he asked for a voice vote to approve Syed. A few Republicans registered that they were “no” votes ― other Republicans backed Syed ― and he was prepared to then move forward and send Syed to the full Senate for approval.

A GOP staffer, however, raised an objection that a roll call vote did not take place. Since then, Republicans have not shown up for committee business.

In a statement Wednesday, Paul said the answers he has received from the SBA have not been sufficient.

“We have spent months using every tool at our disposal to get the SBA to tell us the truth about what is going on and reverse course with this money,” he said. “The SBA has stonewalled us at every turn, refusing to answer basic questions or provide even customary oversight information.”

Supporters from a number of organizations held a press conference Wednesday outside the Capitol, urging GOP senators to stop blocking Syed.

“For far too long, civil servants from ethnic or religious minorities have been held to different standards than white civil servants,” said Arielle Gingold, deputy Washington director of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, a progressive Jewish group. Gingold added that the Republican Party “used the Jewish community as a pawn” to block Syed.

Shekar Narasimhan, co-founder of AAPI Victory Fund, is a friend of Syed’s who spoke at the press conference Wednesday. He told HuffPost that Syed recognizes “he’s in the fight of his life.”

“The fight is now about things that are now larger than just simply the SBA deputy administrator,” Narasimhan said.

Syed has also received vocal support from Munr Kazmir, a Pakistani American Jew who is a major GOP donor. He has been tweeting that Senate Republicans’ refusal to move forward on Syed is hurting small businesses.

The level of support and campaigning for a nominee in this sort of role is unusual. Syed’s supporters from various organizations have run a grassroots campaign for months, writing op-eds and conducting a Day of Action in September to put pressure on GOP senators.

“We will not be swayed by events staged to generate press releases and speeches,” Paul said in his statement Wednesday, saying he will continue to demand “accountability for the Biden Administration’s lawless actions.”

“They are going to dissuade business people from ever trying to serve,” Narasimhan said of Republicans. “Business people start to see this and say to themselves, ‘It doesn’t matter what I’ve done ... it doesn’t matter what my objectives are. Somebody somewhere’s going to find something and try to nail me to the wall. I don’t know why anyone in their mind who’s sane would do this.’ That’s not good for Democrats or Republicans, and most importantly, it’s not good for America.”