Updated: 4:39 p.m.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today said he should not be blamed if the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador again fails to win the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster.
“If she is not nominated today, tomorrow, whenever that vote is, there is only one person in this building to blame and that is” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Rubio said off the Senate floor.
“But let’s see. Maybe it works out,” he continued. The Senate could vote on the nomination as soon as today. And sources said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has also been working the phones in an effort to ensure Aponte is confirmed.
A senior administration official said, “We are leaving no stone unturned, working hard from the White House and the State Department.”
Rubio said he had asked Senate Democratic leaders to hold a vote on the nomination in December.
Rubio initially opposed her nomination last year but changed his mind after he won concessions from the White House on foreign policy issues. He said he had provided a list of the seven Republican votes, but Reid did not call the vote.
One vote that Rubio had said he had is that of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). But Kirk is recovering from a stroke and will not be able to vote.
Senate Democratic leadership aides contend that Rubio changed his position only after getting heat from Puerto Rican constituents. The Puerto Rican community makes up a key voting bloc in Florida, and Aponte is of Puerto Rican descent.
Democrats also were critical of Rubio for seeking to defray blame if the Aponte nomination goes down.
“Sen. Rubio committed to rounding up the votes,” a Democratic aide said, adding that the onus is on Rubio to come through or suffer the defeat.
The aides also said that Rubio’s votes against Aponte — once on the floor and once in the Foreign Relations Committee — contributed to Aponte not getting confirmed the first time.
Asked if he would help find the seven GOP votes needed to clear the filibuster hurdle this week, he said, “I am not the whip for the State Department. I worked on this endeavor in December. I delivered those to them. Obviously, I am responsible for my vote. Any of my colleagues that want to ask me about my position, I’ll be more than happy to state it.”
Rubio charged that Senate Democrats were playing politics with the nomination.
“It’s not a coincidence that we are in an election cycle and that the president is going to be in Orlando next week and all of a sudden a nomination that wasn’t a priority in December, January, February, March or April or May is now a priority in June,” Rubio said.
“The bottom line is that the votes were there in December,” Rubio continued. “Harry Reid knew it. He decided not to vote on it because he wanted to use it for politics. That’s what these guys do. And at the end of the day, the victim is not just the U.S. mission in El Salvador, but Mari Carmen has found herself being used by these people for this purpose, and I think it’s sad. But that is the way business is conducted in this town. If you want to have a glimpse of what’s wrong with American politics, there’s a sneak peek.”
The nomination has been a priority for President Barack Obama and Reid, who used every procedure at his disposal to keep her nomination alive in the Senate after it was filibustered late last year.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had led GOP opposition to Aponte, in part because the administration refused to cooperate with Republican requests for information on her controversial background. He contends that questions remain about her relationship with a man who he said was targeted as part of an FBI counterintelligence investigation and allegedly worked for Cuba’s spy agency. He also has objected to her writings, which include an opinion piece that he believed to be pro-gay-rights and anti-family.
Rubio said his opposition was not personal and only had to do with his efforts to get the administration to take a tougher stance on the election in Nicaragua, which he believes was flawed.
“I never had an opposition to her,” Rubio said. “I opposed every Western hemispheric nominee until the administration did a few things that I’d asked them, and they did those things. So I did what I told them I would do, and I was able to round up those votes. I gave them those names in December. They chose not to bring her up for a vote.”