By Minnie Stephenson
Jacob Lew, President Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, received pushback from Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
A majority of Republicans signaled opposition to Lew because of his involvement in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during the Obama administration when he was secretary of the treasury.
“Holding hands with Iran under the table doesn’t work for me,” said Idaho Sen. James Risch, the ranking Republican on the committee.
But the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), cautioned that in light of Israel’s war with Hamas, “now is not the time to play political games.”
Cardin called Lew “eminently qualified.”
“I have seen firsthand Jack Lew’s commitment, his integrity, his dedication to American values,” Cardin said.
Lew defended himself, saying “we negotiated with Iran to have them rollback their nuclear program in exchange for which they would get access to money that was their money that we had frozen.”
“All we did was facilitate that transaction,” Lew said.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) presented a chart showing Iran’s revenues from oil over the years, suggesting that funding to Iran means funding to Hamas.
Lew dismissed the chart and said that Iran’s revenue has had no impact on its support for Hamas.
Throughout the hearing, Lew repeatedly emphasized that he has been sanctioned by Iran in the past, and that he’s “proud” of that.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) aggressively interrogated Lew, saying that the administration has “undermined” Israel. Cruz referenced two now-deleted posts on X from the Palestinian affairs office and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, both calling for a ceasefire amid Hamas attacks.
Lew said he could not speak to the tweets, but continuously emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself.
“I cannot remember a time when Israel’s struggle for security was not at the forefront of my mind,” Lew said. “I will do my utmost to end the horrific attacks by Hamas and ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself.”
Lew also responded to concerns of many Democratic senators for civilians who have been killed as “collateral damage,” saying he’s confident Israel will find a way to defend itself that minimizes civilian deaths.
“Israel has not just a right…but a responsibility to defend itself,” Lew said. “It’s not for revenge, it’s for defending your people.”
Along with other Democrats, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) praised Lew’s nomination, saying he and Lew agreed on almost everything.
“I’ve always known you as a man of great integrity,” Van Hollen said.
Lew was nominated by Biden in early September, but Cardin and other Democrats pushed to speed up his confirmation after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, beginning a war that has killed thousands.
The confirmation hearing also comes as the White House is considering requesting $90 billion to $100 billion in aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, the Associated Press reported.
The previous U.S. envoy to Israel, Thomas Nides, left in July.
Before becoming treasury secretary, Lew was the White House chief of staff from 2012-2013 and director of Office Management and Budget for both the Clinton and Obama administrations.