The United States has been without a confirmed ambassador for Israel since this summer, when Thomas Nides departed from the role. Lew was nominated by Biden in September. One month after the nomination, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, and Israel subsequently declared war. Lew’s nomination has been on a fast track since then.
Democrats maintain a narrow majority in the Senate. Although Lew, a former treasury secretary under President Barack Obama, has faced strong opposition from many Republicans, he is expected to be narrowly confirmed in a majority vote in the chamber.
On the Senate floor ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) both urged the chamber to quickly confirm Lew for the post.
“With everything happening in Israel right now, confirming Jack Lew at this moment will be one of the most important and consequential nomination votes the Senate has taken in a long time,” Schumer said.
Cardin, who said Lew was “eminently qualified” for the ambassadorship, emphasized the need for “a confirmed ambassador.”
“We need to work together on operations. We need to work together on tactics. We need to work together on strategy with Israel,” he said. “It’s so much more difficult for us to be able to do that without a confirmed ambassador in Jerusalem.”
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to vet his nomination earlier this month, Lew was grilled by Republicans — largely over his defense of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
The agreement restricted Iran’s enrichment of uranium in exchange for the loosening of U.S. sanctions. Israel’s right-wing government and many Republicans vehemently opposed the deal, and related efforts at that time to de-escalate what remains a dangerously volatile relationship between Washington and Tehran. Then-president Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement in 2018.
The hearing centered on what lawmakers overwhelmingly agreed is Israel’s need for a steadfast American ally in the wake of this month’s devastating Hamas attack, though many Republicans signaled it would be difficult for them to support Lew given his past work to implement the now-defunct deal with Israel’s sworn enemy.
The committee ultimately voted to advance Lew’s nomination last week. Lew was supported by every Democrat on the panel, as well as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
Before serving as treasury secretary during Obama’s second term, Lew served as Obama’s chief of staff. He also previously served as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama and Clinton administrations.
An Orthodox Jew, Lew has long-standing connections to the American Jewish community. He also has long backed a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
Abigail Hauslohner, Michael Birnbaum and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.