The Cable

Eisen gets confirmed by Senate; Aponte not so much

The Senate voted late Monday to confirm Norm Eisen as ambassador the Czech Republic, but held up the stalled nomination of Maria Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador.

Both Eisen and Aponte are already serving at the posts under recess appointments that were due to expire at the end of this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for two cloture votes Monday night to get past Republican holds on the nominees. The Senate voted to overrule the hold on Eisen by a 70-16 vote, and he was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote shortly after. The Senate failed to override the hold on Aponte. The vote on proceeding to debate over her confirmation failed 49-37.

"Senate Republicans once again put politics above policy by blocking the confirmation of a dedicated public servant," Reid said in a statement following the Aponte vote. "In the fifteen months Mari Carmen Aponte has served as our ambassador to El Salvador, she finalized an important international, anti-crime agreement and forged a strong partnership between our nations. The Puerto Rican community and all Americans are right to be proud of Ms. Aponte's accomplishments as a diplomat representing our nation, as I am."

"I am disappointed Republicans continued a long-running trend of obstructing qualified nominees just to score political points. Unfortunately, defeating President [Barack] Obama is more important to Senate Republicans than confirming qualified nominees to represent our country in Latin America," said Reid.

There was broad GOP opposition to the Aponte confirmation, led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). It is unlikely Democrats will try to confirm her again before adjourning for the holiday break. There is also no sign yet that Senate Democratic leadership will try to bring up the confirmation of Matthew Bryza, whose recess appointment as ambassador to Azerbaijan is about to expire, or the confirmation of Mike McFaul, whose nomination to be ambassador to Russia is being held up by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable Tuesday morning that he would try to move more nominations this week but he didn't have any specifics.

The Cable

Albright backs up Clinton, calls out Putin

Russia's once-and-future president, Vladimir Putin, should stop blaming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Russia's domestic unrest and take a look in the mirror, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said on Friday.

"The combination of blaming the West, and Secretary Clinton specifically, is part of kind of a ‘this is not our fault' [attitude].... The problems are domestic. He is going to make a big point of trying to make them seem foreign," Albright said at a Friday event on the new Pew Research Center report on public opinion in Russia, Ukraine, and Lithuania.

Albright also took aim at Putin's legitimacy, suggesting that the current protests show that he may have a difficult time asserting his authority after returning to the presidency in the forthcoming May election, which most observers still expect him to win.

"As somebody who has studied international affairs for my entire life, I don't think I've ever seen such a period where there are so many questions about leadership generally. And while Putin may have thought that he had a special kind of permit for making decisions on behalf of his people, I think it's evident that he didn't and that he doesn't," she said.

Albright was commenting on the ongoing war of words between Putin and Clinton, in which Putin blamed Clinton for instigating the unrest that has been raging in Moscow following domestic and international charges of vote tampering in Russia's recent parliamentary elections.

On Dec. 6, while in Lithuania, Clinton called the Duma elections -- where the ruling United Russia party won 49.5 percent of the vote -- "neither free nor fair," and said that the United States had "serious concerns" about the conduct of those elections.

"Independent political parties...were denied the right to register. And the preliminary report by the OSCE cites election day attempts to stuff ballot boxes, manipulate voter lists, and other troubling practices," Clinton said. "We're also concerned by reports that independent Russian election observers, including the nationwide Golos network, were harassed and had cyber attacks on their websites, which is completely contrary to what should be the protected rights of people to observe elections, participate in them, and disseminate information."

Putin responded Thursday by accusing Clinton personally of fomenting unrest in Russia. He said Clinton had sent "a signal" to "some actors in our country." He also accused the United States of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to influence Russian domestic politics, with the aim of weakening Russia.

"I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners," Putin said in remarks to political allies. "The first thing that the secretary of state did was say that they were not honest and not fair, but she had not even yet received the material from the observers."

Clinton stood by her remarks on Thursday and State Department spokesman Mark Toner defended State Department funding for democracy programs inside Russia.

These programs ... are designed to support a more transparent, free and fair electoral process. They're not about favoring any political group or any political agenda more than any other agenda," Toner said. "In terms of signaling, we've stood up, as we have elsewhere in the world, and continue to stand for the right for people to peacefully express their views and their democratic aspirations, and we're going to continue to do so. There's no signaling involved."

Albright said on Friday that Russia was not immune to calls for popular sovereignty that are sweeping the world and that Putin should stop believing his own self-serving propaganda that places him above such considerations.

"There is nothing more discouraging to citizens than the conviction that voting makes absolutely no difference. And so I think that this kind of a message is something that the Russians are going to keep looking at," she said. "And Putin, I believe, is going to have to in some way take these signs into consideration."