- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Senate confirmed Mari Carmen Aponte as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador in a simple voice vote that hid the intense two-year controversy over her nomination.

The diplomatic dispute involved Cuban spies, gay rights, partisan anger, ethnic politics and a potential Republican vice-presidential candidate who switched votes to endorse her.

Sen. Marco Rubio helped secure nine Republican colleagues in favor of Miss Aponte when the Senate voted 62-37 Thursday to cut off debate on her nomination. That was two more votes than the Democrats needed to prevent a Republican filibuster. The Senate then approved her on a voice vote.

The Florida Republican, often mentioned as a possible running mate for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had voted against Miss Aponte twice before but insisted his opposition was not personal. Mr.. Rubio explained that he had objections to certain of President Obama’s policies in Latin America, and opposed all of his diplomatic nominees in the Western Hemisphere to get the White House’s attention.

After the confirmation vote, Mr.. Rubio said he supported Miss Aponte because the Obama administration “had addressed my earlier concerns.” He did not elaborate.

Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American, accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of delaying the vote on Miss Aponte for six months so the Nevada Democrat could help raise Hispanic anger against her Republican opponents.

“Last December, I personally informed [Mr. Reid] that we had secured enough votes for her confirmation,” Mr.. 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.”

Miss Aponte is a Puerto Rican-born D.C. lawyer and Democratic Party activist.

“These are the tactics this administration increasingly uses, which has made it the most deliberately divisive presidency in modern times,” Mr.. Rubio added.

Mr.. Reid declined to mention Mr.. Rubio’s role in getting enough Republicans to force a vote on her nomination, saying only that he was “pleased that a few, reasonable Senate Republicans dropped their unwarranted opposition.”

Miss Aponte has been a controversial nominee since President Bill Clinton first tried to name her as an ambassador in 1998. Immediately stories emerged about her romantic relations with a Cuban-American businessman who had close ties to Cuban diplomats in Washington.

The FBI cleared her of any links to spying for the Cubans, but she withdrew her nomination as ambassador to the Dominican Republic before senators had a chance question her in a confirmation hearing.

Mr.. Obama ran into the same suspicions in 2009 when he first nominated her to serve as ambassador to El Salvador. Faced with possible Senate rejection, Mr.. Obama appointed her ambassador for a temporary term during a congressional recess the next year. However, Miss Aponte compounded the dispute about her qualifications by promoting gay rights in an article for an El Salvador newspaper that ran in June 2011 after Mr.. Obama declared “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.”

Her article enraged Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who mounted a campaign to block her nomination.

Mr.. DeMint criticized her for “igniting controversy” in the conservative Catholic nation by “lecturing their people on the need to accept and support the gay lifestyle.”

Miss Aponte’s appointment ended in December, and she returned to Washington, where Mr.. Obama nominated her again.

Mr.. DeMint raised no objections Thursday but voted against her, along with the 36 other Republicans.

Along with Mr. Rubio, the Republican senators who backed her were: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, Susan M. Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa A. Murkowski of Alaska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes. com. The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

• James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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