The U.S. Senate broke an impasse on Thursday to confirm a U.S. ambassador to El Salvador who had previously been denied the position in part of because of a pro-gay editorial she wrote in one of the country’s newspapers.
The Senate confirmed Mara Carmen Aponte, a D.C. lawyer and activist, to the role by voice vote after senators voted 62-37 to cut off debate on her nomination.
In December, cloture for nomination failed by 49-37 — short of the 60 votes needed to advance her nomination. Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) led the charge against her, saying an editorial she wrote in favor of LGBT rights was “hostile to the culture of El Salvadorans.”
Her op-ed, titled “For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist,” was published on June 28 in La Prensa Grafica, a Spanish-language newspaper in El Salvador. The piece followed a call from the State Department to Foreign Services officers urging them to recognize June as Pride month overseas.
According to the Associated Press, Aponte wrote, ”No one should be subjected to aggression because of who he is or who he loves. Homophobia and brutal hostility are often based on lack of understanding about what it truly means to be gay or transgender. To avoid negative perceptions, we must work together with education and support for those facing those who promote hatred.”
But the op-ed was only one issue that Republicans raised about Aponte last year. The GOP also took issue with a relationship she had with an insurance salesman named Roberto Tamayo that ended in 1994. In 1993, a Cuban intelligence defector accused Tamayo of being a Cuban spy and trying to recruit supporters. However, Tamayo was later reportedly said to have been an informant for the FBI.
Aponte’s opponents accused the Obama administration of not providing enough information on her past. Democrats disputed the notion that enough information wasn’t available and that anything in Aponte’s FBI file should detract from her ability to continue to serve as ambassador.
At the time, Aponte was already serving as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador through recess appointment. But because she couldn’t get confirmed last year, her appointment expired on Jan. 3.
President Obama renominated Aponte for the position on Feb. 17. Her confirmation on Thursday means she can return to the position after being absent from the post for more than six months.
In a statement, Obama commended the Senate for confirming Aponte, saying she’s “been a highly effective advocate for the United States in El Salvador.”
“As an honest broker, she has helped advance programs and policies to enhance citizen security in El Salvador while weakening transnational crime links that affect our own national security,” Obama said. “Ambassador Aponte has also been a strong voice for democratic governance throughout the region. She should have never been forced to leave her post.”
All Senate Democrats voted “yes” on cloture for her nomination. Republicans who joined them were Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
Following her confirmation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement calling Aponte “an exemplary nominee” and saying he’s “pleased that a few, reasonable Senate Republicans dropped their unwarranted opposition.”
“During her recess appointment, Ambassador Aponte was an outspoken advocate for American values and democracy, and a staunch supporter of U.S. private enterprise,” Reid said. “She persuaded the government of El Salvador to deploy troops to Afghanistan. El Salvador is the first and only Latin American country to send military forces to join our NATO deployment. And she reached an agreement with the Salvadorian government to open a new, jointly-funded electronic monitoring center to fight transnational crime.”
According to Reid’s office, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally called senators prior to to the vote to advocate for Aponte’s nomination in addition to White House staff. Reid also said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) was instrumental in getting her confirmed.
Rubio, who was among the Republicans who voted against the Aponte confirmation last year, explained his decision to change his vote in a statement following the confirmation, saying the Obama administration has “addressed my earlier concerns about its Western Hemisphere policy” and Aponte “will serve our nation well in El Salvador.”
The Florida senator, another Tea Party favorite, also took a swipe at Reid, saying he was playing “divisive ethnic politics” over the nomination.
“Last December, I personally informed Senator Harry Reid that we had secured enough votes for her confirmation. Despite his claims to the contrary, today’s vote proves that, in fact, the votes were in place,” Rubio said. “But instead of giving her a vote, he decided to use her nomination to help the White House play divisive ethnic politics, particularly to try to divide two groups of Hispanics against each other. These are the tactics this administration increasingly uses, which have made it the most deliberately divisive presidency in modern times.”
A Senate Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, responded to Rubio’s accusations by saying Reid has been an “unflagging defender” of Aponte.
“He really went all the way in order to get her confirmed,” the aide said. “Sorry if Sen. Rubio has issues with [confirming] a qualified nominee, and he calls that ethnic politics. He really doesn’t understand the definition of that. He should have just voted for her the first three times — he voted against her — and we wouldn’t have been at this stage having to do this.”