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Senate to Reconsider Mari Carmen Aponte Nomination

Senate Democratic leaders are considering bringing up the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte as soon as this week for a second time to be ambassador to El Salvador.

The nomination has been a priority for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has used every procedure at his disposal to keep her nomination alive after it was filibustered late last year.

“She can’t be in limbo forever,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said. “It’s an important position and it’s unstaffed, and that has an impact on the region.”

Reid could call the nomination up for a vote as soon as Wednesday, Democratic aides said.

Democrats, who control 53 votes in the chamber, are hoping Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) can help win over the seven Republicans needed to beat back a second filibuster. Surpassing that hurdle would clear the way for a direct vote on the nomination, which only needs 51 votes to be confirmed.

A spokesman for Rubio said, “He looks forward to voting for her whenever Sen. Reid brings her up for another vote.”

“Unfortunately, one of the Republican Members who had agreed to vote for Aponte in December is not here now,” the spokesman added, referencing Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), who is recovering from a stroke.

The move by Democrats to consider taking up the nomination comes after leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus wrote to Rubio last week calling on him to help find the votes.

“On behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, we write to urge you to secure the votes necessary to confirm Mari Carmen Aponte to be U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador,” the letter said.

On Dec. 12 of last year, the Senate voted 49-37 on the Aponte nomination, which was short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. Given last year’s vote, however, Rubio may only need to bring over four votes to get the seven needed because Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Susan Collins (Maine) voted with Democrats in favor. Rubio voted against Aponte in December but has since said he supports her nomination, crediting his change to the Obama administration’s decision to take a tougher stance on the election in Nicaragua, which Rubio said he believed was flawed.

“When this issue came up last year, Sen. Rubio was opposing several Western Hemisphere nominations because of concerns with the administration’s policies in the hemisphere, especially in Nicaragua,” the spokesman said. “We worked behind the scenes with the administration and reached an agreement on Nicaragua, so the Senator agreed to vote for cloture on Aponte and find enough Republican votes for her to pass.”

“Rubio’s opposition was never based on her personally,” the spokesman said.

After reaching the agreement with the White House, Rubio wrote to the State Department on Dec. 17, notifying it that he “is no longer opposed to Ms. Aponte’s nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador.”

Democrats cast the move as an effort to limit political damage in Florida. Puerto Ricans are a key voting constituency in Florida, and Aponte is of Puerto Rican decent.

A spokesman for Rubio at the time disputed that characterization and said his support simply stemmed from an agreement struck with the White House on the Nicaragua election.

Agreement in hand, Rubio urged Reid to bring up the Aponte nomination again in late December because he said he had secured the seven votes needed to overcome the filibuster.

“The only reason Aponte is coming home is because Sen. Reid refused to schedule a vote after Sen. Rubio had succeeded in changing administration policy and succeeded in securing the necessary Republican votes,” the spokesman said at the time.

Senate Democrats contend Rubio is seeking a do-over vote after feeling the heat from his constituents. They also questioned the seven votes that Rubio said he had wrangled.

The main opposition to Aponte came from Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative who has embraced the tea party. The South Carolina Republican endorsed Rubio early on over the GOP establishment candidate, then-Gov. Charlie Crist. The endorsement helped Rubio win — something that some analysts have speculated played into Rubio’s decision to oppose Aponte.

DeMint opposed Aponte, who was the United States’ Salvadoran ambassador after receiving a recess appointment last year, which expired at the end of December, because of an op-ed she wrote in El Diario de Hoy that he believed to be pro-gay rights and anti-family.

DeMint noted that the Aponte article riled conservatives in El Salvador, who formed a coalition urging the Senate to reject her nomination.

Democrats would also need to get Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who voted with Republicans against the nomination, to switch his vote this time around.

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