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Marco Rubio Getting Heat Over Aponte Filibuster

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) appears to be doing damage control over his vote last week to filibuster Mari Carmen Aponte’s nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador, according to Democrats and pundits.

“I think that his votes were telling of where he was at, and he didn’t change his tune until after it made it into his hometown paper and papers across the state of Florida,” said state Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat who represents part of the Interstate 4 corridor, where much of the state’s Puerto Rican community lives.

“Motivations are best shown when [people think] no one is paying attention,” Soto added.

Rubio voted against Aponte, who is of Puerto Rican descent, on the Foreign Relations Committee last month and against a procedural vote that would have allowed the Senate to vote on her confirmation Dec. 12. But he wrote to the State Department Dec. 17, notifying it that he “is no longer opposed to Ms. Aponte’s nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador.”

Voters of Puerto Rican descent are a key voting constituency in Florida.

A spokesman for Rubio disputed the characterization that he is seeking to limit the potential political damage from his votes and said the junior Senator’s newfound support stems from an agreement struck with the White House to take a tougher stance on the election in Nicaragua, which Rubio believes was flawed.

“To drag ethnic politics into this ignores the realities,” the spokesman said. “He is in for five more years, he’s much more interested in getting things done than worrying about short-term politics.”

The Senate voted Dec. 12, 49-37, to cut off debate on the Aponte nomination, well short of the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster and invoke cloture. If 60 Senators had voted for the cloture motion, it would have cleared the way for the Senate to directly vote on the nomination, and only 51 would be needed for confirmation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reversed his vote at the last minute in a procedural ploy that will allow him to bring the nomination up again. However, Aponte’s recess appointment expires at the end of this year, so she will have to relinquish her duties before another vote can occur. The full Senate is not expected back in session until Jan. 23.

Democratic aides said Aponte remains a priority for Reid, and he hopes to bring her nomination up again next year once the 60 votes needed are secured. Rubio’s reversal alone is not enough to put Aponte over the top. However, Rubio has told Democratic leaders that he can deliver the votes needed to beat back the filibuster.

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