The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

U.S. ambassador to El Salvador faces stiff opposition in Senate; McFaul nomination moves forward

Mari Carmen Aponte is currently serving as the U.S ambassador to El Salvador, but she might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year, as her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans. Aponte’s initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last ...

Mari Carmen Aponte is currently serving as the U.S ambassador to El Salvador, but she might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year, as her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans.

Aponte's initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte's long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Castro's intelligence apparatus. She wasn't confirmed, but Obama sent her to El Salvador via a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year.

Mari Carmen Aponte is currently serving as the U.S ambassador to El Salvador, but she might have to come back to Washington at the end of the year, as her re-nomination process is facing a huge amount of pushback from Senate Republicans.

Aponte’s initial nomination to be ambassador to El Salvador was held up last year in an effort led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who was demanding more information about Aponte’s long-ago romance with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Castro’s intelligence apparatus. She wasn’t confirmed, but Obama sent her to El Salvador via a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year.

At today’s business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Aponte’s nomination was narrowly approved by 10-9 vote that fell along party lines.

"This nomination needs a vote by the end of the year otherwise we won’t have an ambassador in El Salvador," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) at the meeting. Other senators that spoke up for Aponte included chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

Menendez and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) were initially the only senators allowed to review Aponte’s FBI file, but DeMint eventually got permission to view the file. He said at today’s meeting that the file was incomplete and that it hadn’t been updated since 1998. He asked for a closed hearing on Aponte, but Kerry said that was not an option.

"She has done a solid job as ambassador," Kerry said today, pointing out that under Aponte’s tenure, El Salvador became the first Latin American country to send troops to aid NATO forces in Afghanistan. He asked at the hearing for DeMint to work with him to move the nomination but the other GOP committee members backed up DeMint’s objection.

"There are legitimate questions about Miss Aponte," DeMint said, arguing that his concerns were not limited to her relationship with Tamayo. "This is not a witch hunt."

Durbin pointed out that, since 1998, when Aponte withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, she has twice received Top Secret security clearances. "Obviously, many tough questions have been asked and answered," Durbin said, arguing that Aponte’s personal background was no longer an issue.

DeMint alleged that political people in the Obama administration overruled intelligence officials in granting Aponte security clearances, but he offered no evidence of that in the public business meeting.

Boxer said she suspected DeMint’s problems with Aponte stemmed from a June 2011 op-ed that Aponte wrote in a Salvadorian newspaper promoting tolerance and acceptance of people in the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community.

"Ms. Aponte’s decision to publish an opinion piece hostile to the culture of El Salvadorans, presents even more doubts about her fitness for the job," DeMint wrote in a response on the Human Events conservative news and opinion website. "The Senate should reject her nomination when her recess appointment expires at the end of this Congress and force the president to appoint a new nominee who will respect the pro-family values upheld by the people of El Salvador."

But Durbin said at today’s business meeting that Aponte was simply following a State Department cable sent to all diplomatic posts that they publish op-eds in support of LGBT awareness month.

Regardless, Aponte’s re-nomination bid seems to be in serious trouble.

Meanwhile, SFRC approved the nominations of Mike McFaul to become ambassador to Russia and Roberta Jacobson to become assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Two Republicans voted against the McFaul nomination: Bob Corker (R-TN) and James Risch (R-ID).

Corker didn’t object to McFaul’s personal qualifications for the position, but rather used the nomination to press for administration assurances that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which includes the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, will be fully funded for Fiscal Year 2012. He told The Cable today that he was working with the administration on the issue.

"I just want to see the administration work with us to follow through on commitments made to us last December," said Corker.

Risch, however, is one of several GOP senators who want to use the McFaul nomination as leverage to press the administration to hand over information on various aspects of the U.S.-Russia relationship, such as the details of missile defense cooperation discussions with Russia. It’s not clear whether the administration is willing to give those senators enough information to facilitate the McFaul nomination.

The McFaul nomination is now headed to the senate floor, where several GOP senators not on the committee are expected to voice objections. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is expected to place a formal hold on the McFaul nomination due to ongoing concerns on the lack of disclosure of documents related to U.S. missile defense cooperation and questions as to whether the administration will be sharing classified missile defense data with the Russian Federation, a senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable.

As for Jacobson, only one senator, Marco Rubio (R-FL) objected to the nomination. He said at the meeting that he was concerned with the Obama administration’s overall policy in Latin America and that he would hold all related nominees until the administration engages with him more directly on these issues.

SFRC was also supposed to bring up a resolution expressing the sense of the Senate on the Libya war, but that resolution was not offered at today’s meeting and no explanation was given as to why it has disappeared.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

The Pentagon is seen from the air over Washington, D.C., on Aug. 25, 2013.

The Pentagon’s Office Culture Is Stuck in 1968

The U.S. national security bureaucracy needs a severe upgrade.

The Azerbaijani army patrols the streets of Shusha on Sept. 25 under a sign that reads: "Dear Shusha, you are free. Dear Shusha, we are back. Dear Shusha, we will resurrect you. Shusha is ours."

From the Ruins of War, a Tourist Resort Emerges

Shusha was the key to the recent war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Now Baku wants to turn the fabled fortress town into a resort.

Frances Pugh in 2019's Midsommar.

Scandinavia’s Horror Renaissance and the Global Appeal of ‘Fakelore’

“Midsommar” and “The Ritual” are steeped in Scandinavian folklore. Or are they?