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End of a Long Road: Dilawar Syed Becomes Highest-ranking Muslim in the Biden Administration

End of a Long Road: Dilawar Syed Becomes Highest-ranking Muslim in the Biden Administration

  • The Senate confirmed the Pakistani American in a 54-42 vote after more than two years of being nominated to serve as Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Pakistani American Dilawar Syed was confirmed to the No. 2 spot at the Small Business Administration, becoming the highest-ranking Muslim in the Biden administration. The entrepreneur, who served as special representative for commercial and business affairs at the State Department since February 2022, was confirmed by the Senate in a 54-42 vote last week to serve as Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration, more than two years after he was originally tapped for the position in March 2021. Five Republicans voted with Democrats to move the nomination forward.

In his remarks on June 8, ahead of the confirmation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted the long journey of Syed’s nomination in his morning remarks. “The SBA has not had a Senate-confirmed deputy for more than five years, and Mr. Syed is exactly the right person for the job,” he4 said. His nomination is backed by over 200 civic, government, higher education and business groups and leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Roundtable. Mr. Syed is an American success story.”

Since his nomination, Syed has been receiving resistance from the GOP members on the Small Business Committee who have been coming up with specious excuses for not voting on his nomination. “Some reasons were unrelated to Syed, including questions over Paycheck Protection Program funding going to entities affiliated with Planned Parenthood — which the nominee had no involvement with,” Politico noted.  Republicans also criticized him for his association with an “anti-Israel” Muslim American group. However, several religious advocacy groups, including several Jewish organizations, backed Syed.

After stalling in the previous Congress, his nomination moved forward earlier this year through a Senate Small Business Committee vote. He was renominated this year. His nomination came during the 117th Congress, “when the Senate had a slimmer majority than it does now,” reported Politico, noting reasons for the nomination delay. “But with a larger Democratic majority in the 118th Congress, the Small Business Committee was able to approve his nomination in a 10-9 vote in March, sending him to the floor.”

In 2021, The Washington Post’s editorial board slammed the Senate Republicans for blocking Syed’s confirmation. The Post editorial board cited the reasons for the Republican resistance to Syed’s nomination — “they first demanded answers on Covid-relief loans to Syed’s business, but when it was established that “the company was entitled to the SBA loans, and it paid off the debt rather than pushing for it to be forgiven as was allowed,” they moved to something else. “This time it was Syed’s association with an advocacy group that has been critical of Israel. This despite support from several prominent Jewish organizations.” 

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The Post editorial board further noted that “if Republicans believe Mr. Syed should not be confirmed, they should show up, vote against him and explain why they are doing so.” Adding that “they don’t want to be on the record voting against the appointment of someone so eminently qualified, who has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Small Business Association, the Board noted that “they take the coward’s way out.”

The Pakistan-born Syed, a technology entrepreneur based in Silicon Valley, has built and led global organizations in various leadership roles. He served on President Obama’s White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) and chaired the White House Initiative on AAPIs’ Economic Growth Committee.

He was a surrogate in President Obama’s 2012 campaign and served as a member of Obama for America’s 2008 National Finance Committee. He was a member of the then California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ Policy Transition team, and in 2008 served as national co-chair of the DNC’s South Asian Leadership Council as an appointee of Gov. Howard Dean. 

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