Politics

Senators Press Rubio on Ambassador to Mexico

Roberta Jacobson's nomination to be ambassador to Mexico has hit turbulence in the Senate. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of senators is pressuring opponents of the nomination of President Barack Obama's choice to be ambassador to Mexico to back down.  

"We are here for one reason: we need a strong ambassador to Mexico. This is a critical position with one of our nation's largest trading partners," New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall said at a news conference Thursday. "This is a job that is of the utmost importance to our national security and our economy."  

Another border state senator, Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona, highlighted both the importance of trade and the role that the ambassador to Mexico plays in discussions about border security.  

Obama nominated Roberta Jacobson to be ambassador to Mexico last July, and the Foreign Relations Committee reported the nomination in November. But she has faced a blockade from getting a vote on the floor by senators led by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio of Florida.  

Jacobson has been serving as an assistant secretary of state with responsibility for the Western Hemisphere at a time that the Obama administration has changed the U.S. policy with respect to Cuba -- a policy Rubio has vehemently opposed. Obama is expected to travel to the communist island country on March 21, as the administration has been easing a longstanding embargo.  

Flake told reporters he discussed the hold on the Jacobson nomination with Rubio, whom Flake has endorsed for president. He also emphasized support from the Senate majority whip, who is from Texas, for advancing Jacobson to a floor vote.  

"John Cornyn has advocated for this vote. People need to know that, that he's spoken up in various meetings," Flake said.  

Udall said they senators are urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to file cloture to limit debate on the Jacobson nomination, working around Rubio in the process. Udall and others plan to make repeated unanimous consent requests on the Senate floor for the Jacobson nomination, a move that will require Republicans to stand up and object on Rubio's behalf, since the Florida senator and chairman of Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere subcommittee is typically absent from the chamber while campaigning for president.  

"It is clear that the Obama administration’s foreign policy around the world, and specifically in the Western Hemisphere has been short-sighted and counter-productive. Our allies have been left to question the commitments we have made to them, while our adversaries have been emboldened to challenge the U.S. at every step," Rubio said last November in declaring opposition to the Jacobson pick. "As the United States' lead diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson has played a central role in that failure."  

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said Thursday that the candidate's position is unchanged.  

“Senator Rubio maintains his strong opposition to this nominee on the basis of her failure to be transparent during the confirmation process, inability to provide straightforward answers, and poor track record on a wide range of issues as the Assistant Secretary of State for Western  Hemisphere Affairs," Burgos told Roll Call. "It is his belief that Ms. Jacobson is unprepared for this important role and lacks the trustworthiness we need in an ambassador to one of our most important partners."  

In a statement ahead of the news conference, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Javier Palomarez was particularly critical of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.  

"As the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, [Menendez] went against his Democratic colleagues and Republican committee Chairman [Bob] Corker to block Roberta Jacobson’s nomination. What is that if not playing politics? Besides that, Senator Marco Rubio and [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz have also showed their opposition to confirming Roberta Jacobson," said Palomarez. "Like Menendez, they are choosing to obstruct her confirmation for political reasons that blatantly disregard her qualifications and the importance of this vacant post."  

Appearing with Udall, Flake and Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., on Thursday, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that it was her understanding Menendez did not have a procedural hold on the Jacobson nomination, however.  

Menendez's office responded saying, "As a life-long champion of issues that directly impact the Hispanic business community, it is very disappointing that the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s leadership did not even bother to reach out and get the facts directly from Senator Menendez before making assumptions."  

Contact Lesniewski at nielslesniewski@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter at @nielslesniewski

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