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Democrats Promote Mari Carmen Aponte, Court Hispanics

Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte (left, beside Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor) is serving under a recess appointment that expires at the end of the year. She needs Senate confirmation to keep her job.

Democrats looking to curry favor with Hispanic voters ahead of the 2012 elections have scheduled a test vote in the Senate today on the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the ambassador to El Salvador.

But Aponte may fall victim to what would be the third GOP-led filibuster of a nomination in a week, because Democrats may not be able to rally the 60 votes needed to cut off debate on her nomination. Last week, Republicans blocked both a judicial nominee and the president’s pick for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Opposition to Aponte’s nomination has come from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has concerns over an op-ed she wrote in an El Salvadoran publication that he believes promotes homosexuality. He also raised concerns about her relationship with a man alleged to be a Cuban spy.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also opposes the nomination — and those of Roberta Jacobson to be assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs and Adam Namm to be ambassador to the Republic of Ecuador — over a disagreement with the Obama administration’s policies regarding Cuba and Nicaragua.

Aponte is already serving as the ambassador after receiving a recess appointment last year. But that appointment expires at the end of the year unless the Senate confirms her nomination.

“If Republicans oppose this nomination en masse, it will send the wrong signal to a very large community that they cannot afford to offend,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said Friday.

In the absence of any real legislative progress on matters important to Hispanic voters, the Aponte nomination appears to allow Democrats to cast themselves as concerned about Latino-centric issues.        

Democrats, who control the Senate in a divided Congress, have struggled to pass legislation important to Hispanic voters.

While a push for immigration reform could still be in the offing for next year, last December the Senate narrowly failed to pass the DREAM Act. The measure would provide a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants who agree to go to college or join the military.

The bill was approved in the House last year, when Democrats held the majority, but its prospects for passage have plummeted when Republicans, who want to focus on border security, took over following the 2010 elections.

The Aponte nomination is strongly supported by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and two of its leaders — Chairman Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) and First Vice Chairman Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) — sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urging him to support Aponte’s nomination.

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