WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday he will not support President Donald Trump's nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to Israel, saying this his past statements would "compromise his effectiveness."
David Friedman, a New York attorney and longtime Trump associate, apologized during his Senate confirmation hearing last month for calling President Barack Obama an anti-Semite and comparing liberal Jews in the United States to Nazi enablers. Several Democrats, including Cardin, said those past statements and positions are impossible to overlook.
Cardin announced his position on Friedman on the eve of a vote scheduled in the Foreign Relations Committee on his confirmation.
"Following extensive consideration of Mr. Friedman's record and taking into account his statements during his nomination hearing, I have concluded that his past record would make it very difficult for him to serve as that unifying force," Cardin said in a statement. "For that reason, I am unable to support his nomination as America's top diplomat in Israel.
"I appreciate Mr. Friedman's efforts before the committee to express regret for his record of divisive, inflammatory, and offensive statements," Cardin said. "Unfortunately, I believe that the body of Mr. Friedman's published work will compromise his effectiveness representing the United States -- and all Americans -- to the government of Israel and all Israelis."
Friedman is intensely unpopular with liberal Jewish groups such as J Street, and several Democrats have already announced their opposition. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein penned an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle this week arguing that "his confirmation would only fan the flames of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters recently he is "inclined" to support Friedman for the job.
Cardin has credibility with both liberal and conservative Jewish groups. He was one of only four Senate Democrats to oppose the nuclear deal with Iran that was negotiated by the Obama administration and five other nations in 2015.
Friedman, who is likely to win confirmation with Republican votes regardless of Democratic opposition, will enter the position during an uncertain time in U.S. relations in the Middle East. Ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, Trump appeared to waver on a decades-old U.S. policy of supporting a two-state solution in the Middle East -- the idea that a Palestinian state is a required element for peace.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, disputed that assertion a day later, saying that the United States was "absolutely" committed to a two-state solution.
Trump and other Republicans railed against the nuclear deal during the 2016 campaign, but have been far more cautious since winning the election. The administration is formally reviewing the agreement and said this week it would pursue enforcement "with great strictness."