Dems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee

The White House and congressional Democrats are punching back at GOP senators for blocking President Biden’s nominee for deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), who if confirmed would be the highest-ranking Muslim American in the Biden administration.

On Tuesday morning, Republicans on the Senate Small Business Committee skipped out on a meeting convened to advance Dilawar Syed’s nomination for deputy administrator for the SBA for the third time since his confirmation hearing in April.

Republicans say they are boycotting the nominee over Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans being given to Planned Parenthood affiliates. GOP senators have also previously criticized his ties to a Muslim advocacy group.

The committee, which is split between 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, needs a majority of its members to be present to constitute a quorum to vote on nominations.

“Dilawar Syed is well-qualified to serve as deputy administrator of the SBA, which has been critical in providing relief to small businesses in the midst of the pandemic. And yet his confirmation is being held up in an unprecedented way and for no good reason by GOP members of the Committee,” White House spokesman Chris Meagher told The Hill in a statement.

“By again refusing to show at a committee hearing today, these members are not just slowing his vote, but also slowing help to American small business owners and workers who are trying to build back from the pandemic,” Meagher continued.

On Monday evening, committee Republicans reiterated that they would oppose the nomination until the SBA takes action to recover “wrongfully acquired” PPP loans that have been given to Planned Parenthood entities, which would essentially restore efforts by the SBA under the Trump administration to take back loans to the nonprofits after determining they were ineligible.

“The SBA has wrongfully approved nearly $100 million in taxpayer funded Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to Planned Parenthood branches across the country,” the GOP committee members said. “We will not allow a vote on this nominee until the SBA takes action to recover the wrongfully acquired PPP funds by Planned Parenthood entities.”

Additionally, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) led a letter signed by other committee members in July calling for another hearing on the nominee due to his affiliation with Emgage Action, a Muslim advocacy group that the senators described as “vocally anti-Israel.”

“While his membership was disclosed to the committee prior to his nomination hearing on April 21, the political organization has since made alarming statements that have members of your committee and the small business community that we represent seriously concerned,” the GOP senators wrote in a letter to Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

During Tuesday’s brief committee meeting, Cardin noted that Syed addressed concerns about his affiliation with Emgage during his confirmation process. In written questions, Syed stated “unequivocally” that he does not support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel that some Palestinians have advocated for. Syed also said he would resign from the board of Emgage if confirmed.

Cardin also said the PPP loans to Planned Parenthood affiliates are legal under the CARES Act, and he and other Democrats expressed frustration at the GOP blockade of the nomination.

“The partisan, unnecessary and unconscionable inaction of our Republican colleagues show no concern for the millions of small businesses still relying on SBA’s support to survive COVID-19 and rebuild for the future,” Cardin said.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) accused Republicans of a “dereliction of duty.” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) accused Republicans of “screwing” over the American people. And Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) called GOP critiques “baseless, unfair and frankly Islamophobic.”

Several GOP offices pointed to The Hill to the statement about opposing the nomination over loans to Planned Parenthood entities when asked about lawmakers’ continuing opposition to the nomination. Republicans say that SBA has refused to provide updated figures on PPP dollars that have been disbursed and forgiven since July 1.

A GOP aide also noted that some Democrats were missing from the meeting on Tuesday morning.  

Cardin noted at the start of the hearing that he knew in advance that the Republicans didn’t plan to show up.

Democrats on the Small Business Committee have scheduled three business meetings — on July 13, July 15 and Tuesday — in which they sought unsuccessfully to advance Syed’s nomination because Republicans were absent.

A Senate Democratic aide also said lawmakers tried to favorably report out the nomination by voice vote during an off-the-floor markup in the Capitol on June 16 during which a quorum of senators was reached. However, the Senate parliamentarian rejected the effort, saying a roll-call vote was necessary to report the nomination.

Last week, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus also wrote a letter accusing Republicans of unfairly targeting Syed with “false accusations” and “anti-Muslim sentiment.”

Syed is the president and CEO of the health care software startup Lumiata. He previously served as the founding chairman of the California Entrepreneurship Task Force and was a member of former President Obama’s White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

The White House provided a list of 224 individuals and organizations that have expressed support for Syed, whom Biden nominated to the position in March. Biden’s nominee to lead the SBA, Isabel Guzman, was confirmed in an 81-17 bipartisan vote in March. The deputy administrator position has not had a permanent occupant since 2018, during the Trump administration.

The White House has expressed general frustration over the slow pace of Senate confirmations.

Republicans have stalled quick confirmations of some of the nominees, while Biden has been forced to pull others, most recently Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives nominee David Chipman, because of insufficient support in the 50-50 Senate, where Vice President Harris casts a tiebreaking vote in tight contests.

Tags Barack Obama Ben Cardin Chris Coons Dilawar Syed Dilawar Syed Emgage Isabel Guzman Joe Biden Josh Hawley Mazie Hirono Senate confirmation Small Business Administration Tammy Duckworth White House

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video