Mari Carmen Aponte on Track for Confirmation

The second time was the charm for Mari Carmen Aponte to become ambassador to El Salvador.

The Senate today voted 62-37 to end debate on the nomination, clearing the way for a vote on her confirmation next week unless Republicans opposed to her nomination agree to a vote before then.

Sixty votes were needed to end debate, but only 51 votes will be needed to confirm Aponte. Democrats control 53 votes in the Senate, while Republicans control 47.

The vote is the second time the chamber considered the Aponte nomination. The Senate voted on the issue in December, but the nomination failed to win the 60 votes needed to beat back a filibuster.

Nine Republicans voted to move Aponte’s nomination forward, six of whom switched their votes from December to help Democrats overcome the filibuster. Democrats said the White House and the State Department spent the past few days calling Senators to urge support for Aponte’s confirmation.

With Democrats heavily courting the Latino vote ahead of the November elections, Aponte’s nomination was a priority for President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry (D-Nev.), who worked to keep it alive in the Senate.

The nomination had also become a point of contention between Democrats and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Rubio voted against Aponte in the Foreign Relations Committee and on the floor in December. He said his opposition had to do with concessions he was seeking from the Obama administration regarding policy toward Latin America.

Once he won the concessions, he said he would vote for Aponte and help find the seven GOP votes needed to confirm her. He called on Reid to hold the vote later in December and said that he had secured the votes needed.

Democrats argue that Rubio only changed his position after getting heat from Puerto Rican constituents. Puerto Ricans are a key voting constituency in Florida and Aponte is of Puerto Rican descent. Democrats also question whether the votes Rubio said he wrangled would have come through.

They also argue that Rubio opposed Aponte as a nod to Sen. Jim DeMint. The South Carolina Republican, who has embraced the tea party, endorsed Rubio early on over the GOP establishment candidate, then-Gov. Charlie Crist, which helped Rubio win.

DeMint had led 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 opposed some of her writings that he said were pro-gay and anti-family.

Rubio said Wednesday that he believes Democratic leaders were playing politics with the nomination. He sought to place the blame on them if Aponte did not move forward today.

“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 its sad. But that is the way business is conducted in the town.”