The Senate on Tuesday confirmed former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew as the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, setting him up to take on the critical role amid the country’s battle against Hamas.
Senators voted 53-43, with two Republicans joining with every present Democrat.
“With Israel defending itself against Hamas, this ambassadorship is as important and timely as any nomination that the Senate has confirmed in a long time,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the vote. “Mr. Lew is the right man for the job of ambassador to Israel. He’s a capable public servant, a fierce ally to Israel and commands a broad base of trust and respect, and he is a decent and humane man.”
“When my colleagues and I met with the Israeli government, we promised to send them an ambassador as soon as possible. And today the Senate has kept that promise.”
“But it was clear when we went there that Israel needs an ambassador from the U.S., especially at this time,” Schumer added.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week advanced Lew’s nomination in a 12-9 vote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was the lone Republican on the panel to support him. Republicans expressed opposition to Lew, pointing especially to his hand in the Obama administration’s work on the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.
“He’s got a really hard job going into this environment,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said Tuesday. “We need an ambassador there.”
Thomas Nides, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, left the post in July.
Lew’s pending confirmation comes at a critical time as Israel escalates its war against Hamas in Gaza. The Israeli military reportedly fought Hamas gunmen across their tunnel network Tuesday.
It also comes during a crucial stretch on Capitol Hill as House and Senate members battle over how to fund the U.S. ally.
The House is set to vote later this week on a bill that would greenlight $14 billion in aid to Israel, coupled with cuts to the IRS that were passed last year as part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Senate leaders Monday indicated the proposal from Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) would be dead on arrival in the Senate over the cuts.
“It’s a nonstarter. It’s a poison pill,” Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) told reporters.
Schumer said on the Senate floor that he was “deeply troubled” by the bill, which he deemed “woefully inadequate” over the lack of Ukraine funding and the IRA cuts.
“The House GOP bill is woefully inadequate and has the hard right’s fingerprints all over it: It makes aid for Israel, who has just faced the worst terrorist attack in its history, contingent on poison pills that reward rich tax cheats,” Schumer said. “In short, it makes it much, much harder to pass aid for Israel.”
The Biden administration’s request for a supplemental package includes $61 billion to boost Ukraine’s war efforts against Russia, $14 billion for Israel and $14 billion to boost security at the border. Thune told reporters that there is a “significant” number of Senate Republicans who view efforts to fund Israel, Ukraine, the border and Taiwan as interconnected, while leaders continue to push for the items to be linked together against calls by a growing number of conservatives.
“We want a broader package,” Thune said. “There is a significant number of Republicans in the Senate who believe that these are all linked and that these are all vital national security interests and priorities of the United States.”
“This sort of axis of evil that’s developed between Russia, China and Iran … is something that needs to be addressed in its totality, and therefore there ought to be a broader package,” Thune added. “There’s broad and deep bipartisan support for Israel, and the other issues — not so much. It gets a little bit more complicated when you start adding those other pieces to it.”
Updated at 3:28 p.m.