Senate confirms highest-ranking Muslim in government after previous GOP blockade

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

Syed will be the top Muslim official in the US government.

Republicans on the Small Business Committee had blocked his nomination, citing agency payments to abortion providers and other reasons. President Joe Biden first appointed the Pakistani-born businessman to the post in March 2021, and he reappointed him this year to the new Congress.

Syed was confirmed 54-42

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

“It’s time for us to do this,” Cardin said.

Syed’s nomination was blocked at the committee’s last convention after Republicans repeatedly failed to show up for votes. The Republicans, led by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — then the top Republican on the panel — gave several different explanations, including Syed’s affiliation with a Muslim advocacy group, the small business loans he received, and and, finally, agency loans to Planned Parenthood branches.

The standoff has led Democrats to accusations of anti-Muslim bias and galvanized some Muslim and Jewish organizations to condemn the delay.

Rabbi Jack Moline, then president of the Interfaith Alliance, argued at the time that inaction was an “excuse for many problems that have nothing to do with job fit”.

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 his first nomination. Five Republicans voted to confirm it in Thursday’s final vote.

Republicans on the committee still have objections. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the new Republican leading the business committee, said she thinks Syed was slow to disclose the loans he received and wasn’t forthcoming enough during questioning, as the committee was concerned about potentially fraudulent pandemic loans.

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

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


Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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