Senate to hold confirmation hearing for Biden’s pick to be ambassador to Israel

WASHINGTON — Former Treasury Secretary will testify Wednesday at a hearing to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel as the White House seeks to fast-track his Senate confirmation vote.

The hearing, hosted by the Democratic-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee, comes at a critical time in the wake of Hamas’ terrorist attack in Israel. President is in the region this week for meetings with Israeli leaders, and Israel is preparing for a potential ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

White House national security adviser told reporters last week that the administration is working to get Lew confirmed quickly. Biden nominated him last month.

“We are going to work with both Democrats and Republicans — and particularly the leaders on both sides and the chair and ranking [member] in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — to make that happen as soon as humanly possible and then get him out to the region immediately thereafter,” Sullivan said.

After the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel, the White House began working urgently to kick-start the confirmation process. Congressional recesses and other issues had delayed it.

The U.S. has not had a Senate-confirmed ambassador to Israel since Thomas Nides left the administration in July. Stephanie Hallett, a career diplomat, has been the top U.S. official at the U.S. Embassy in the interim.

Lew, who is Jewish, has decades of experience in Washington, and he has been active in pro-Israel advocacy circles. He was the White House chief of staff for the last two years of President ‘s first term and then was treasury secretary from 2013 to 2017.

His current positions include managing partner at Lindsay Goldberg LLC, visiting professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and co-president of the board of the National Library of Israel USA.

Lew, 68, was director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under Obama and President Bill Clinton. During the Clinton administration, he helped develop the memorandum of understanding on multiyear U.S. funding for Israel, and during the Obama administration he worked several times to provide “crucial funding” for Israel’s missile defense systems that are designed to protect residents from attacks, a White House official said recently.

At the beginning of his career, Lew was a congressional aide, at one point serving as a senior policy adviser to House Speaker Tip O’Neill, D-Mass.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., last month immediately endorsed Lew after Biden nominated him.

“It’s vital we have a strong American ambassador in Jerusalem. Mr. Lew is precisely the person for the job of ambassador to Israel that we need,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.

Lew is likely to get widespread support from Senate Democrats, but it is unclear how many Republicans he can win over. And while he may not need GOP backing if all 51 members of the Democratic Caucus back him, unanimous bipartisan support would allow for a faster confirmation vote.

The Senate could confirm Lew as soon as next week. Even in the face of Republican opposition, Foreign Relations Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., hopes Democrats can get cooperation to move quickly on the Senate floor.

“It’s critically important to have a confirmed ambassador,” Cardin told NBC News. “We’re talking about being with Israel, giving them everything they need. Well, we need to have a confirmed ambassador on the ground in Israel to evaluate exactly what they need and be able to get that aid or weapons to Israel.”

Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the panel, told reporters he expects there to be some GOP opposition to Lew.

“I am going to listen with an open mind,” Risch said. “But I have to tell you, given the things that have happened in the past with him, it’s going to be a heavy lift for me. But he’s going to have an opportunity [Wednesday] to persuade people that he’s the right guy for the job.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who is not a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told NBC News: “We should not confirm someone who has been so soft on Iran, repeatedly. … The Democrats may say it’s a way to show our support for Israel. On the contrary, we should show that we have a new approach to Iran by defeating Jack Lew’s nomination.”

During the confirmation hearing, Republicans are expected to focus on an interaction Lew had before the Foreign Relations Committee when he was treasury secretary in 2015, when he said Iran “will continue to be denied access to the [U.S.] financial and commercial market.”

In 2016, the Treasury Department issued a license granting Iran access to U.S. financial systems, but American banks eventually declined, fearing legal and compliance risks.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another Foreign Relations Committee member, said in an interview on Fox Business Network that he has “real concerns that [Lew] has misled and lied to Congress in the past in terms of the some of the financial arrangements that were made under the Obama administration.”

Rubio, however, said he thinks the U.S. should have an ambassador in every country, and he stopped short of expressing opposition to Lew’s nomination.

Lew has faced opposition from other Senate Republicans. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, said on X last week that Lew was the “key point man in negotiations & disinfo campaign for Obama’s dangerously flawed deal w Iran.”

“The consequences are felt today as Iran—flush w cash due to Biden’s push to revive the deal at any cost—has fueled carnage in Israel,” he tweeted. “Lew must answer for the failed Obama-Biden Middle East strategy as he appears before the Senate Foreign Relations committee for his confirmation hearing.”

In 2015, the U.S. and other countries entered a nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which eased sanctions on Iran in return for strict limits on its nuclear program designed to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. withdrew from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions while introducing new ones.

Republicans criticized Lew in 2016 when, as part of a settlement between the U.S. and Iran, he defended a $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran’s government.

Lew is also likely to be asked about the debate over whether to provide Iran access to $6 billion as part of a prisoner swap deal with the U.S. last month. Days after Hamas’ attack in Israel, Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told House Democrats that the U.S. and Qatar had agreed to block Iran from accessing the funds, according to three sources familiar with his remarks.

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