Senate nears breakthrough on Obama's stalled pick for Mexican ambassador

Senate nears breakthrough on Obama's stalled pick for Mexican ambassador

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Diplomat Roberta Jacobson’s nomination has drawn fire in particular because of her role at the State Department in easing the Obama administration’s relations with Cuba. | AP Photo

The Senate is on the cusp of a breakthrough that would allow the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson, President Barack Obama’s long-stalled nominee to become ambassador to Mexico, according to multiple sources.

The chief obstacle for Jacobson, a high-ranking State Department official who was chosen by Obama last June, has been Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — who for months has blocked swift consideration of her confirmation because of her work to normalize relations with Cuba and other foreign-policy concerns.

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But key GOP senators who support Jacobson, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, the powerful second-ranking Republican, have been quietly working with Rubio. In return for lifting his objections, Rubio aims to secure provisions related to Venezuela policy, according to the sources.

“We’ve been in discussions with the White House to see what can be done,” a Rubio aide said Thursday. Rubio has also been a tough critic of the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Jacobson cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November on a 12-7 vote, but her nomination has languished since then. That’s despite support from a cadre of GOP backers such as border-state Republicans Cornyn and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has repeatedly called for installing an ambassador to Mexico, which is the United States’ third-largest trading partner.

Her nomination had drawn fire in particular because of her role at the State Department in easing the Obama administration’s relations with Cuba. That drew criticism not only from Rubio, but from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), another critic of the administration’s Cuba policy who also opposes confirming Jacobson.

“It is clear that the Obama administration’s foreign policy around the world, and specifically in the Western Hemisphere has been short-sighted and counter-productive,” Rubio said in a statement last November announcing his opposition to Jacobson. “As the United States’ lead diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson has played a central role in that failure.”

But the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, an increasingly influential coalition of Latino-owned businesses with ties to both Democrats and Republicans, has aggressively pushed for Jacobson’s confirmation. The United States has been without an ambassador to Mexico since Jacobson’s would-be predecessor, Anthony Wayne, retired in July.

“There have been some architects behind the scenes,” Javier Palomarez, the Hispanic Chamber’s president, said in an interview Thursday. “John Cornyn is in the front of that line, [Sen. John] McCain, Jeff Flake, all Republicans … that are doing the Lord’s work on behalf of the entire nation.”

Palomarez added: “To continue to go without the top diplomat [to Mexico], that’s absolutely ludicrous.”

The Hispanic Chamber is holding its annual legislative summit this week, and a top focus has been to highlight the need to confirm Jacobson.

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