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Senate Democrats aiming for a committee vote on Lew this week

Sen. Ben Cardin laid out an aggressive timeline for moving Lew’s nomination as Israel ambassador forward, in the face of mounting Republican opposition

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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: U.S. Ambassador to Israel nominee and former Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew attends a portrait unveiling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department on September 26, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-MD) said on Monday night that he is hoping that his committee will be able to vote on Jack Lew’s nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel this week, following Lew’s confirmation hearing slated for Wednesday.

Cardin told reporters that he’d like to move Lew forward “as soon as possible” and is hoping for a vote this week or next week. But, he said, he hasn’t yet secured an agreement with committee Republicans to hold a committee vote on Lew, leaving the timeline in question. He said he’s in discussions with Ranking Member Jim Risch (R-ID) about such an agreement.

Cardin’s aggressive vision is likely to face stringent opposition among Republicans, several of whom have voiced deep concerns about Lew, particularly his involvement in the Obama administration’s Iran policy. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) joined several colleagues in voicing objections to Lew’s record on Iran last night. Even with an agreement with Risch, any single Republican on the committee can temporarily postpone a committee vote on Lew’s nomination, and subsequently block quick confirmation on the Senate floor.

Should Republicans attempt to block a fast-track process once Lew is advanced out of the committee, Cardin said he anticipates that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will invoke cloture on Lew and bring his nomination to a vote on the Senate floor.

Cardin said that, in addition to a bipartisan resolution introduced yesterday in support of Israel, he and Risch are also working on “several areas” of binding legislation to assist Israel, and said they hope to have a bill ready for the committee’s consideration “shortly.”

The resolution has the support of every senator other than Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a libertarian-leaning Republican who previously blocked resupply for Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system for months in 2021 and 2022.

The resolution states that the Senate stands with Israel in efforts to “diminish the threat posed by Hamas,” “reaffirms Israel’s right to self-defense and is committed to helping Israel safeguard its people from future aggression,” condemns Iran’s support for terror groups, urges the U.S. to lead a multinational effort to sanction Iran and other funders of Hamas, warns other parties against entering the conflict and expresses support for resupplying Israel with needed weapons systems.

Cardin said that Schumer is planning to bring the nonbinding resolution up “as soon as he can.” And he’s expecting that the administration will submit a formal request for supplemental aid to Israel this week and “certainly no later than next week.”

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), who visited Israel last weekend on a delegation led by Schumer, told Jewish Insider on Monday night that he had heard “horrendous” stories from the Israeli officials with whom the group met, as well as family members of American hostages.

“This is a tragic situation. We need to stand with Israel, our strongest democratic ally just about anywhere, really, not only in the Middle East,” Kelly said. “Israel needs our support and we’re going to provide it.”

Kelly said that Israel is asking for other forms of support beyond the supplemental aid package, although he declined to offer specifics. In supplemental aid, he said Israel is asking for munitions, precision-guided weapons, so-called smart bomb kits, artillery shells and Iron Dome interceptors — which, he noted, “I got to experience… in action.”

The Senate delegation was forced to take shelter in a bomb shelter during the visit in response to a Hamas rocket attack.

While most U.S. Jewish and pro-Israel groups are not publicly taking stances on Lew’s confirmation, many citing longstanding policies against endorsing nominees, the Anti-Defamation League, J Street and Jewish Democratic Council of America are urging lawmakers to support him.

“It is vital that we send a clear message to the world that the United States stands firmly with the Jewish state in the face of war and barbaric violence,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told JI. “It is more important than ever for the U.S. to demonstrate this strong support for our closest ally by having a dedicated ambassador in Jerusalem able to deal on a daily basis with the complexities unfolding. ADL urges the Senate to immediately confirm Jack Lew to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel.”

J Street said in a statement to JI, “Now more than ever we urgently need a highly experienced and capable ambassador on the ground — and we’re confident that Lew is the right man for the job.”

JDCA said on social media that “Israel needs immediate and strong support from the U.S.,” adding, “Lew is well-qualified. We urge the Senate to confirm Jack Lew with no delays.”

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