Senate Democrats are pushing aggressively for quick confirmation of Jack Lew as ambassador to Israel after the attack by Hamas on Saturday.
Lew was nominated in early September. But the attack, widely condemned by both parties and across the ideological spectrum, will kick the effort into high gear. It will jump start a broader debate over aid to Israel in an already chaotic fall.
Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he hopes fellow senators “will join me in promptly confirming” Lew. And Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said “we should do this instantaneously and we also need to confirm a chief of Naval Operations.”
“For the U.S. to be without an ambassador at this critical moment would political malpractice by the Senate. Jack Lew is highly qualified and should be confirmed this coming week,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), another member of the panel.
In addition to Lew’s confirmation, Cardin said he would prioritize sending more resources to Israel, including for the Iron Dome missile defense system as well as a potential supplemental spending bill. Those could either ride on a must-pass spending bill in November or perhaps in a separate package.
Lawmakers are also trying to supply aid to Ukraine after leaving it out of the last spending bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that ”failure to support friends under attack — in Kyiv or Tel Aviv — will only embolden the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism and fellow authoritarians.”
The Senate is on recess until Oct. 16 and the House lacks a speaker, complicating plans to pass new legislation quickly. But Senate Democrats can move nominees like Lew unilaterally, and he received bipartisan support when he was confirm as Treasury secretary 10 years ago.
Senate Republicans will have some sway over how quickly the Lew nomination will move through the chamber. And Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho) signaled he would be open to cooperation.
“The file for the Lew nomination was just completed last week, which is a critical step as the committee moves toward a hearing,” said a spokesperson for Risch. “The attacks on Israel are a clear provocation, and the U.S. team on the ground is so far doing well. The committee will perform its due diligence as quickly as possible to move this nomination forward.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has previously put holds on some Biden administration nominees for posts related to the Middle East, raising questions about how quickly Lew could move through the Senate.
A spokesperson on Saturday said Cruz has not yet met with Lew but indicated deep concerns about administration nominees related to Israel.
“Sen. Cruz has said since the summer that it was becoming impossible to expeditiously advance Biden administration nominees because those nominees keep lying to Congress and the American people, testifying publicly that they are committed to countering Iran and deepening the U.S.-Israel relationship then implementing the opposite policies in secret once confirmed,” the spokesperson said. “He will evaluate Lew’s nomination against the backdrop of those concerns.”
Biden administration officials also are eager to see Lew confirmed in light of the Saturday’s attacks in Israel. In a conference call Saturday, one senior official noted that he has yet to be confirmed. “Obviously it would be great to have him on the ground in Israel,” the official said.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is preventing many military promotions from a quick vote in protest over the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy.
“This is serious business. If he wants to change healthcare policy at DOD, he can introduce a bill. But he cannot undermine our ability to help our allies and partners,” Schatz said on Saturday.
Jennifer Haberkorn and Myah Ward contributed to this report.
The confirmation of Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Israel suddenly takes on new urgency.