skip to Main Content
MSJ NEWS see latest news

Senate Democrats Denounce GOP Blockade of SBA Nominee Dilawar Syed

  • Democratic senators unleash frustrations after Republicans block vote on nomination of Dilawar Syed to be deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration for the third time
  • Republican senators say they will not act until the SBA takes action on loans given to Planned Parenthood affiliates, though they have also accused Syed of being part of an anti-Israel group
  • Democrats accuse Republicans of undermining effectiveness of SBA as it takes on new significance in providing financial assistance to small businesses

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

Democratic members of the Senate Small Business Committee are accusing their Republican colleagues of unnecessary partisanship and inaction in their blockade of President Joe Biden’s pick for a key post in the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Republican members did not attend Tuesday’s committee hearing, which was scheduled to make a recommendation to the full Senate on the confirmation of Dilawar Syed as the deputy administrator of the SBA. The committee includes 10 Democratic members and 10 Republican members, and the absence of the Republican membership left the committee without the quorum necessary to do business. The move marked the third time Republican committee members have used this tactic to block a decision on Syed’s nomination.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, gave an opening statement criticizing the Republican members’ ongoing efforts to stymie Syed’s nomination. He accused the senators of shifting their rationales over time for their objection to the nomination and depriving the SBA of an important leader even as the agency has taken on additional significance in helping small businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m disappointed, and would like to remind everyone that the actions of our colleagues are not harming us, or President Biden, or Mr. Syed himself,” said Cardin. “The people who are being harmed by my Republican colleagues are the millions of small businesses who are counting on the SBA for support through the pandemic as well as the long economic recovery that lies ahead.”

Syed’s nomination has been backed by more than 200 civic, government, higher education, and business leaders and organizations. Cardin described him as “eminently qualified” for the position and said the deputy administrator’s position, which has been vacant since the departure of Allie Coetzee Leslie in April 2018, is vital for the day-to-day management of the SBA.

Biden nominated Syed for the deputy administrator position on March 3. Syed is the president and CEO of Lumiata, a company specializing in artificial intelligence for health care companies. His previous experience includes serving as the president of software company Freshworks and the founding chair of California Entrepreneurship Task Force.

Cardin’s accusation that Republicans are shifting their pretenses for failing to act on Syed’s nomination stems from varying concerns that members have brought up since Syed’s name was put forward. These included Syed’s company receiving COVID-19 relief funds during the pandemic, Syed’s association with a group some of the Republican membership described as anti-Israel, and the SBA’s oversight of COVID-19 loans to Planned Parenthood affiliates.

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

Previous concerns

Cardin said one concern that was raised at the April 21 hearing on Syed’s nomination was over Lumiata’s receipt of federal COVID-19 aid. According to ProPublica, the company received a $563,514 forgivable loan through the Paycheck Protection Program. Cardin said the Democratic membership agreed to look into the issue, and that it was ultimately determined that Lumiata had decided to return the funds.

Republicans also raised concerns about Syed’s position as a board member of the Muslim-American advocacy group Emgage Action. A June 30 letter from eight Republican committee members sought another hearing on Syed’s nomination due to his membership in the organization. They charged that Emgage Action is “vocally anti-Israel” and in support of a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) effort to put economic pressure on Israel to change its policies toward Palestinians.

Cardin said Tuesday that Syed issued a written response to questions on this matter, including the position that as a volunteer board member Syed has no control over the group’s press statements. Syed also emphasized his past work with Israeli companies, said he did not support the BDS movement, and would resign from Emgage Action if confirmed to the deputy administrator position.

Republicans failed to attend two committee meetings on July 13 and 15 to make a recommendation on Syed’s nomination. This also prompted criticism from Democratic members, including a press release with statements supporting Syed from three dozen business, religious, and political entities.

Planned Parenthood issue

Following Tuesday’s hearing, Republican committee members put out a statement saying their opposition to advancing Syed’s nomination stems from the SBA’s approval of COVID-19 loans to Planned Parenthood affiliates. This issue first emerged in the spring, when Republicans accused the SBA of allowing federal funds to be used to fund abortions.

“The SBA has wrongfully approved nearly $100 million in taxpayer funded Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to Planned Parenthood branches across the country,” the statement read. “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.”

Under the Trump administration, the SBA determined that Planned Parenthood was not eligible for COVID-19 loans and that its affiliates should return the funds they had received. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the committee’s ranking Republican member, said Democrats sought to waive the affiliation rules but later withdrew the attempt.

The issue came up during the April 21 hearing, when Syed was asked about PPP funding for Planned Parenthood. Syed said he was not familiar with the program’s rules as they applied to the organization, but that he would commit to working with the SBA administrator to ensuring that SBA rules are applied consistently across all organizations.

Cardin expressed doubts about the Republican rationale, saying their reasoning for blocking Syed’s nomination has shifted several times. He also said PPP loans to Planned Parenthood were legal under the CARES Act.

Other responses

Some other Democratic senators offered remarks at Tuesday’s hearing following Cardin’s introduction. Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii declared, “It’s just incredible. I have no words for the kind of irresponsible behavior, and I think it’s really important that the American people understand who is screwing them over.”

On social media, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said, “Preventing the SBA from having leadership in place is slowing aid to small businesses and workers at a critical time in our recovery.” Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois denounced Republican members of the committee, saying they would “rather fearmonger and play political games than do the work for the American people.”

The lengthy efforts to block Syed’s nomination have also led to accusations of an anti-Muslim bias. Wa’el Alzayat, CEO of Emgage Action, issued a statement characterizing the Republican actions as “a reflection of bigotry and Islamophobia.”

Spread the Word

More To Explore

Expert Summaries

Know Your Competitors

By Denis Jakuc 

There are tons of benefits to knowing who your competitors are—what they’re offering, their strengths and weaknesses. That knowledge can help you make your products and services stand out,

Latest News

Join with Free InnovatorsLINK Account

Start accessing all the free member benefits and valuable content on the InnovatorsLINK platform. Create a BizLINK listing to boost brand exposure, receive the weekly Main Street Journal newsletter, engage in forums, get full access to free content, and more.