Far from the political main stage, Senate Republicans are engaging in a quiet but venomous fight to derail the nomination of Dilawar Syed to a key leadership role in the U.S. Small Business Administration. At a time when investment in our economic recovery is more critical than ever, Republicans have turned their backs on working people to focus instead on sinking Syed’s well-deserved confirmation – and they’re doing so through character assassination with the sulfurous hint of anti-Muslim bias and bigotry.
Syed is the right choice for the position of deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration. Endorsed by wide-ranging groups, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to a diverse coalition of civil rights, Jewish, Muslim and Christian organizations, Syed has a long-established record of working successfully with entrepreneurs from all walks of life. If confirmed, he would become the highest-ranking Muslim American administration official in U.S. history.
Syed's nomination initially advanced in June, but the Senate parliamentarian rejected this vote. The process then took a nasty turn. Republican committee staff circulated aninternal strategy email – or more accurately, a thinly veiled smear – that did not contain a single substantive statement but dripped with anti-Muslim bias.
Prominent faith groups across the country, including Jewish organizations, have rebuked this deeply offensive assertion, which couldn't be further from the truth. A wide array of religious leaders support Syed in part because they understand that the anti-Muslim sentiment in response to his nomination stems from the same white nationalism that encourages hate incidents and violence toward other communities on the margins.
Yet, despite this overwhelming support across sectors, Senate Republicans have doubled down on baseless and bigoted allegations. They are now taking the position that the Small Business Administration improperly funded Planned Parenthood during the pandemic – including under President Donald Trump.
Until the funds are repaid, they will not advance the nomination. But as many senators have pointed out, it was perfectly legal for Planned Parenthood affiliates to receive the money under existing rules.
This latest diversion only serves as cover for the anti-Muslim bigotry at the heart of their opposition. After Republicans refused to attend the committee vote three times, Committee Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., asked for the nomination to move to the floor in late September. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., blocked the request.
This boycott isn't just tinged with religious bigotry. It is also happening at a time when small businesses in America have been ravaged by the ongoing pandemic – especially minority-owned businesses.
As Syed said himself during his confirmation hearing: “Entrepreneurs in Black and Brown communities, rural and underserved regions need our commitment and support more than ever.”
And let’s be clear – these economic disparities are not new. Decades of our nation’s policy choices have left Black and Brown communities without equal opportunities and without access to the tools to build wealth. This moment offers an opportunity to recover and rebuild our economy in a way that addresses underlying inequities.
In many ways, Syed embodies the American dream. A naturalized citizen who immigrated from Pakistan, he has served in the private sector, including as a business owner, and as a public servant. He was a member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, supporting entrepreneurs after the 2008 Great Recession.
Republican members must put a stop to their anti-Muslim animus and allow Syed’s nomination to advance as swiftly as possible. The longer the Senate delays its consideration of this nomination, the more hardworking people in America will suffer.
Wade Henderson is the interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.