The Ambassador Who Was Delayed by the Presidential Race

Marco Rubio has been holding up the Obama administration’s pick for ambassador to Mexico. Now that Rubio is off the campaign trail, some colleagues hope the nomination can move.

Sen. Marco Rubio
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Alex Rogers
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Alex Rogers
April 6, 2016, 8 p.m.

With a key member of their chamber no longer in the presidential race, several senators are pushing to confirm the White House’s pick to be the ambassador to Mexico, a post left open since July.

The Senate opposition to the nomination of Roberta Jacobson, who holds a top State Department post overseeing the western hemisphere, has been led by Sen. Marco Rubio. After their Florida colleague suspended his campaign for the White House, some senators are hopeful that they can help convince him to end his blockade.

In November, Rubio criticized Jacobson over several issues, charging among other things that she did not properly prioritize human-rights issues in the Obama administration’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

In a brief interview Wednesday, Rubio said that there was “no change” in his position since then but added that he’s had “ongoing” conversations with the State Department. “[I] just haven’t fully been able to work through some of the issues that I’ve had with her service,” he said.

But some of Jacobson’s supporters, including Republican Sen. John Cornyn, hope that the administration will respond to Rubio’s concerns and that the senator will drop his hold.

“I understand that there are going to be people who are going to vote against the nomination—that’s their right,” Cornyn told National Journal. “I think this is such an important country to us and we’ve got such a huge investment in Mexico’s success in terms of security and the economy that I think we would be better off having an ambassador in place. That’s my pitch.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, who voted for Jacobson as she passed through a Senate panel last year, said he spoke with Rubio on Wednesday and that her supporters are picking up steam. He called the long vacancy “unacceptable,” adding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “ready to move.” (A McConnell spokesperson said, “We don’t have any scheduling announcements on this nomination.”)

Flake’s Arizona colleague, Sen. John McCain, said he would vote for Jacobson if her nomination came to the Senate floor. “Now that Marco is back, I hope that there can be some conversation about it,” he said. “It can’t hurt that he’s back.”

And Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, who called Jacobson’s nomination a “long shot” in December, said Wednesday that he and his fellow Democrats now think that Jacobson has a “reasonable chance” of getting a floor vote—and that she would be confirmed if she did.

Yet Rubio isn’t the only Republican to oppose Jacobson. Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho told National Journal that the Obama administration should instead nominate someone less controversial.

“If nothing else, we ought to have an ambassador to Mexico,” he said. “They ought to reach in and grab somebody [else] out of State that is a career person and stick them down there for however many days are left.”

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