Updated 3:19 p.m. - The Senate cleared a procedural hurdle on Thursday allowing a long-stalled ambassadorial nominee to move forward toward confirmation.
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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Senators voted, 62 to 37, to move forward with the nomination of Maria Carmen Aponte as the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) rounded up a handful of Republican votes to help Aponte clear the 60-vote threshold needed to end a filibuster of the nomination. Apointe was later formally confirmed by a voice vote.
Aponte had been serving as a recess appointee of President Obama's after Senate Republicans blocked her nomination in 2010; her confirmation to a full term had moved forward this season in fits and starts, due to the objections of some conservatives.
Led by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Republicans raised objections to some of Aponte's outspoken opinions on gay rights and they questioned her relationship with an old boyfriend, who allegedly worked for Cuba's spy agency. Republicans say they've repeatedly asked the White House for more information on her background but have been repeatedly denied their request.
Rubio, a potential vice presidential candidate this fall, had initially opposed Aponte's nomination, which has been closely watched in Hispanic media. But the Florida senator switched his stance, and led the charge to get Republican votes for Aponte. Critics accuse Rubio of flip-flipping because of the large Puerto Rican community in Florida; Aponte is Puerto Rican.
Rubio told reporters on Wednesday that he never had an opposition to Aponte, but voted against her nomination at first because he disagreed with the White House over some Western Hemisphere issues. He said that, since then, he's been working to round up the seven votes needed to get to 60 votes and break a filibuster.
In a statement today he said, “I supported Mari Carmen Aponte's nomination because the Administration has addressed my earlier concerns about its Western Hemisphere policy and because I believe she will serve our nation well in El Salvador.”
Rubio told reporters Wednesday that once the White House addressed his concerns, he started working to round up the seven votes needed to get to 60 votes and break a filibuster.
He blamed Democratic leadership for not moving immediately to confirm her. He accused Majority Leader Harry Reid of waiting until it was politically expedient with the president set to visit Florida next week.
“At the end of the day, I feel bad for her. She’s become a ping pong ball…It’s not a coincidence that we’re in an election cycle, the president’s going to be in Orlando next week and all of a sudden a nomination that wasn’t a priority …is now a priority in June,” he said.
Democrats credit the efforts of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Hispanic groups in pushing through the Aponte nomination.
After today’s vote Senator McCain acknowledged he was a target of intense lobbying.
“I’ve heard from about 300 people,” he said.