President Obama has used his power to bypass the Senate confirmation process to push through the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the next U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.
Aponte's nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro's intelligence apparatus.
DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI's records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing "personal reasons."
"The allegations were apparently serious enough for her to withdraw her nomination in 1998 so I think it's fair to ask some questions," DeMint told The Cable in April.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the recess appointment lasts "until the end of the following session" of Congress, which in this case means that Aponte could serve until January 2012, at which point she must be nominated again or her post becomes vacant.
The Obama administration came into office promising to do away with recess appointments, but changed its tune in March, citing GOP obstructionism. Aponte was one of four recess appointments Obama announced today, bringing his total to 22, including the seating of missile-defense critic Philip Coyle in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Bill Clinton made 139 recess appointments and George W. Bush made 171 such appointments, according to CRS.
"At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent," Obama said. "Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.