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U.S. Senate committee advances Biden pick for Israel ambassador

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U.S. Senate committee advances Biden pick for Israel ambassador

Oct 25, 2023 | 11:50 am ET
By Jacob Fischler
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U.S. Senate committee advances Biden pick for Israel ambassador
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Jack Lew, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Israel, testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Oct. 18, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Wednesday the nomination of Jacob J. Lew, President Joe Biden’s choice to be U.S. ambassador to Israel.

The panel voted 12-9 to approve the nomination of Lew, a former Treasury secretary and White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama. Kentucky Republican Rand Paul was the only GOP member to vote with the panel’s 11 Democrats to approve Lew, according to Suzanne Wrasse, a spokesperson for ranking Republican Jim Risch of Idaho.

Members of both parties have expressed urgency about confirming an ambassador to Israel amid the country’s ongoing war with Hamas.

But Republicans have been wary about Lew’s time in the Obama administration, particularly his role in carrying out a deal with Iran that lifted some economic sanctions on the U.S. adversary. Iran is also a chief antagonist of Israel and sponsors militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

“Under Obama, Mr. Lew was working directly under the table to get Iran back into the financial system,” Risch said, according to Wrasse. “As a result I will vote today to support Israel and vote no on Mr. Lew. It should be someone the Israelis will have trust in, and this committee will have trust in. I don’t have trust in him at this time.”

A spokesman for committee Chairman Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday morning.

No Senate Democrats have voiced any opposition to Lew, who needs only a simple majority in a floor vote in the Democratic-controlled chamber. He picked up a key endorsement Tuesday when centrist West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III said he would support Lew.

Manchin, who often votes against a majority of his party, said he and Lew have remained friends for years “despite our differing views on the Iran Deal in 2015.”

“After speaking with him multiple times and given his nomination for the position of Ambassador to Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East, Jack has agreed to support pushing to enforce and strengthen sanctions and other points of leverage including snapback against Iran for its support of terrorism and other destabilizing activities,” Manchin said in a Tuesday statement.

“Snapback” means reimposing some sanctions that were lifted in the 2015 agreement.

At his confirmation hearing last week, Lew defended his record on Iran, saying as Treasury secretary he only upheld the U.S. commitment to an international agreement. Iranian officials were upset, he said, that his department restricted access to financial markets they’d expected to be part of the deal.

Cardin said at the hearing that confirming an ambassador was of paramount importance after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas killed more than 1,300 in Israel, including at least 31 Americans. Hamas is still holding hostages that could include U.S. citizens.