President Joe Biden’s pick for ambassador to Israel, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, will face tough questions from Senate Republicans during his confirmation hearing Wednesday morning – and some are already signaling that they may slow down consideration of his nomination on the Senate floor.
Several top GOP senators have expressed their concerns over Lew’s involvement in the Iran nuclear deal during the Obama administration, arguing that although it’s important to confirm a new ambassador as quickly as possible, given the conflict in the region, he may not be the right man for the job.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, “I think we should have an ambassador in every country, it has to be the right person. In the case of Mr. Lew, I have real concerns that he has misled and lied to Congress in the past, in terms of some of the financial arrangements that were made under the Obama Administration.”
Another Republican on the panel, Sen. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, told CNN, “We have to have his hearing, but I have some very serious concerns about him and his involvement with the Iran nuclear deal, a deal that in my opinion is giving nuclear weapons to Iran, facilitating that. So, we’ll have to see what he says in there and take it from there.”
He added, “I imagine a lot of people will ask questions about that.”
While Lew only needs 51 votes to be confirmed, assuming his nomination is advanced by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, any one senator can slow the process down on the Senate floor. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, the no. 2 Republican in the Senate, told CNN’s Manu Raju on Monday there is “a lot of resistance” to Lew’s nomination.
Another top Republican in leadership, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, told CNN on Tuesday that he believes one of his colleagues may place a hold to delay Lew’s confirmation. “I would expect so,” he said, though he would not say who he thinks would take that step.
Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who has attacked Lew as an “Iran sympathizer who has no business being our ambassador,” indicated on Tuesday that he may block a speedy confirmation of Lew.
“Certainly Jack Lew will have to go through all the procedural steps that we go through for any random district judge or assistant administrator of the EPA,” he said. When asked if they would have unanimous consent to skip some of those steps, as the Senate often does, Cotton replied, “We’re not going to skip those for a soft-on-Iran ambassadorial nominee to Israel in the middle of a war with Iran’s proxies in Israel.”
Lew played a key role in the original Iranian nuclear deal in 2015, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fiercely opposed saying it gives gives Iran a clear path to an atomic arsenal. Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, a move that was supported by Israel.
Senate Democrats have pushed back, saying that Lew is qualified and that confirming a new ambassador to Israel should be one of their highest priorities.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Ben Cardin told reporters on Tuesday, “He’s highly qualified, he’s the right person for the right job, but we want to be most effective as possible in helping Israel to deal with the hostages, to deal with the humanitarian needs, to deal with normalization.”
The Maryland Democrat added, “We need a confirmed ambassador in Israel as soon as possible.”
However, Republicans remain unconvinced. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of Senate GOP leadership, said that he is also “very troubled by some of what Senator Cotton addressed in terms of his appeasement, and, frankly, the appeasement approach of the Biden administration and the Obama administration. Iran is still the number one state sponsor of terrorism.”
He continued, “Proxies, like Hezbollah and Hamas are determined to wipe Israel off the map. And they’ve pretty much circumvented sanctions, which were supposed to have been imposed by the Treasury Department under Jack Lew, and selling oil on the open market and relieving some of the pressure that was there to get them to stop their nuclear program.”
Iran is the main backer of terror groups Hamas, based in Gaza, and Hezbollah, based in Southern Lebanon.
Cotton argued that rejecting Lew will send a powerful signal.
“I know Democrats are saying that we need to confirm Jack Lew quickly to show our support for Israel. I would say it’s the exact opposite. We need to defeat Jack Lew’s nomination to show that we have a new approach to Iran,” he said in an interview on Fox News.
In a post on X, Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri agreed.
“As Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was a key figure in the disastrous Iran Nuclear Deal. Iran is the chief sponsor of Hamas. Jack Lew has no business being the US Ambassador to Israel,” Schmitt wrote.