The Cable

Obama uses recess appointment for El Salvador ambassador

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."

The Cable

Aid chief: Global warming is causing natural disasters

An international who's who of development and political leaders are meeting today at the U.N. to raise funds for Pakistani flood relief. At the panel's opening session, American and Pakistani officials argued that global climate change is increasing the risk of humanitarian disasters and probably contributed to the scale of the current crisis.

"We should expect to have more large-scale weather events as we see more systematic warming of our planet," said Rajiv Shah, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, pointing to what he described as a clear trend of increasing natural calamities tied to climate change. USAID has already responded to 64 natural disasters this year.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the unprecedented size of the flood was due at least in part to warming factors, such as the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas. He said the catastrophe was a perfect storm due to the combination of "exceptionally high rainfall in the north, converging with the monsoons and the glacier melt."

Only after the floodwaters recede will the true extent of the damage become known. Qureshi said. He also defended the Pakistani government's widely criticized relief efforts.

"People have complained that the response hasn't been quick enough, nationally and internationally. Frankly, nobody was expecting to have something like this, at this scale," he said. "Initially there was shock and paralysis. But we are out of it now; we are getting our act together."

"We do need international assistance and we need international assistance now," Qureshi added.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to announce an increase in U.S. aid for the flood from $90 million to $150 million today. As of yesterday, the U.N. had received less than half of the $450 million needed for immediate relief.

Raymond Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam America, cautioned that vigilance is needed to ensure that countries follow through on the funding that will be promised at today's conference. The Asian Development Bank pledged Thursday morning to grant a $2 billion loan for long term reconstruction.

"It's one thing to pledge the money; it's another thing to deliver it. We've got to keep the pressure on," he said.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, acknowledged that the international community is competing with militant organizations in the relief effort and that the flood crisis does have strategic implications for the region and for the United States. But that's not what's important right now, he said.

"Obviously we are aware of this. But we are focused solely on helping people in this extreme situation. We will sort out all of the other implications later."

Holbrooke encouraged the audience at the event to text "SWAT" to 50555, which will automatically send $10 to the U.N.'s refugee agency. Donation information for other groups working on the relief effort can be found here.