Mexican post held hostage over Cuba
Mexican post held hostage over Cuba
The Senate has held off confirming an ambassador as the battle over Cuba
By NAHAL TOOSI and BURGESS EVERETT 10/21/15 05:18 AM EDT
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio and fellow Sen. Robert
Menendez, both angry over the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening
to Cuba, are now targeting America’s ties to a far more important
At issue is who, if anyone, will serve as the next U.S. ambassador in
Mexico City during the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency.
In June, the administration nominated Roberta Jacobson, the State
Department’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, who
helped lead the negotiations that re-established U.S. diplomatic ties to
Cuba. But her confirmation has been held up in the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, with the vote postponed earlier this month. The
committee is expected to vote in favor of Jacobson during its next
business meeting, but the nomination is then likely to languish
indefinitely on the Senate floor unless Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.) deems it a priority.
The holdup, sources familiar with the committee said, centers directly
on Jacobson’s work on Cuba.
The delays in her committee approval have “everything to do with the
Cuban policy,” said Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the
committee. “That’s not Roberta Jacobson. That’s the Obama policy.”
Sources said Rubio, a Florida senator considered a top-tier 2016
candidate, and Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who is facing
federal corruption charges, are Jacobson’s primary opponents.
Both senators, who are of Cuban descent, have actively opposed Obama’s
decision to restore ties to the communist-led island, a decision that
took effect July 20, but there’s been virtually nothing they’ve been
able to do to stop the executive branch. Homing in on Jacobson’s
nomination for the Mexico position is one way to needle the White House.
In an interview, Menendez denied that he was taking out his Cuba
frustrations on Jacobson. But he wouldn’t say what his objections are or
whether he will vote against her in committee or slow her nomination on
the Senate floor.
“That is wrong. I have concerns about her nomination, but not because
she participated in the Cuba negotiations,” Menendez said. “When I
determine exactly what I intend to do, if it is to oppose her, I will
describe the reasons but they will not be based upon her negotiation.”
The New Jersey senator, who is battling his indictment and denies
wrongdoing, questioned Jacobson fiercely about U.S. policies in Latin
America during her nomination hearing in mid-July.
While Jacobson is one of several ambassadors — and dozens of executive
branch nominees — facing obstacles in the Senate, her situation is
especially notable because Mexico is considered a crucial posting. The
nation of 122 million is America’s third-largest trading partner. It’s
also a major source of immigrants, documented and undocumented, whose
presence on U.S. soil has become a flashpoint on the 2016 presidential
“We have a person who is eminently qualified. No one disagrees with her
qualifications. There’s no justification to hold this individual up,”
Cardin said. “We have drugs. We have immigrants and refugees, we have
bilateral economic relations, we have environmental relations. We have
so many things going on with Mexico, we need a confirmed ambassador
representing our interests.”
Rubio and Menendez have tried repeatedly to trip up the Obama
administration’s nominees due to their views on Cuba. Rubio temporarily
blocked Jacobson’s 2011 nomination to her current post, in part over
Cuba. Back in 2009, Menendez reportedly opposed the ultimately
successful nomination of Carlos Pascual for the Mexico job; Pascual had
helped write a paper arguing for normalizing ties with Cuba.
Supporters of restoring relations with Cuba panned efforts to delay
“It’s unfortunate. She’s eminently qualified,” said Sen. Jeff Flake
Jacobson is a career civil service officer who is fluent in Spanish and
extensive experience related to Mexico, whether in positions such as
director of the State Department’s Office of Mexican Affairs or as
deputy assistant secretary for Canada, Mexico and NAFTA issues. She
would be the first woman to hold the ambassador’s post in Mexico.
Mexican officials declined to comment on the potential Senate fight, but
the Mexican government has previously expressed its happiness with
In an interview, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker
(R-Tenn.) pledged to move the nomination imminently and suggested that
Jacobson has broad support within the Senate.
“At the next meeting she’ll be voted upon,” Corker said. “I’m very
supportive and will certainly vote for her, as will numbers of people on
our side of the aisle, to move her through.”
Jacobson was not available for an interview, but White House spokesman
Eric Schultz urged lawmakers to support her. “A strong relationship with
Mexico is vital to the economic stability and national security of the
United States, and that relationship relies on a Senate-confirmed
ambassador to Mexico,” he said. “Roberta Jacobson is immensely qualified
for this job, and we urge Congress to swiftly confirm her nomination.”
Jacobson would succeed E. Anthony Wayne, who departed from Mexico City
earlier this summer. But she wasn’t the first Obama administration
choice for the role, or the first one to run into trouble.
The president last year nominated Maria Echaveste, a former Clinton
administration official of Mexican ancestry. She was considered a
political appointment because she did not have a diplomatic background,
although she had applicable policy expertise. But in January, after
waiting several months without getting a committee hearing in the wake
of the Republican takeover the Senate, Echaveste removed herself from
A Rubio aide confirmed that the Florida senator had requested more
information from Jacobson, thus delaying a committee vote on her
nomination, but insisted that Cuba isn’t the only issue of concern,
pointing to what the senator considers relatively lax administration
policy on Venezuela and questions about the integrity of its annual
human trafficking report.
Once Jacobson clears committee (a meeting is expected before
Thanksgiving), it’s anyone’s guess when the full Senate will take up her
nomination. Any senator can put a hold on her nomination once it reaches
that stage, which would require McConnell, the majority leader, to use
his procedural powers to override objections.
Besides Rubio and Menendez, Sen. Ted Cruz — also a Republican
presidential candidate — might choose to block her nomination at that
stage. Cruz, who is also of Cuban descent and opposed to the U.S.
rapprochement with the island, already has holds on a number of other
diplomatic nominees due to his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal;
several other senators also have holds on State Department nominees.
With just more than a year left in the Obama administration, Jacobson’s
tenure in Mexico City could end up being relatively short, although her
status as a career appointee could extend it longer than would be the
case for a political appointee, especially if Democrats keep the White
Although the GOP-led Congress has little power to derail the executive
branch-led resumption of U.S.-Cuba ties, Rubio and Menendez have vowed
to do what they can. And one area where the White House doesn’t seem
willing to test them is on nominating an ambassador to Cuba itself.
Source: Mexican post held hostage over Cuba – POLITICO –