The Cable

Senate finally confirms Aponte for El Salvador ambassador

The Senate voted 62-37 Thursday to approve the nomination of Maria Carmen Aponte to be the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, roughly six months after they rejected her nomination in a vote last December.

Aponte had been sent to El Salvador in late 2010 as ambassador through a recess appointment because her nomination was held up by Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). DeMint had been 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.

Her recess appointment expired at the end of 2011 and a late December effort to confirm her, led by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) failed. Aponte had to return to Washington and leave her post.

Since December, Hispanic and Puerto Rican advocacy groups have been upping the pressure on Republican senators to abandon their opposition to the Aponte nomination. Congressional sources said that Rubio was confronted by these groups as well as multiple major donors over the issue.

"Senator Marco Rubio's support will be key to overcoming these hurdles and getting Ambassador Aponte confirmed. Without his backing, the U.S. will lose a stellar diplomat in an important part of the world," read a call to action by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.

In today's vote, Rubio switched sides and voted for Aponte's confirmation.

Other GOP senators who switched over to support Aponte were Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IL), who has little to lose by bucking his caucus now that he has been voted out of his Senate seat. Still 37 Republican senators voted against Aponte.

After the vote, Reid said that the White House had been intensely engaged over the last few weeks on the Aponte nomination. For the White House, the nomination is a way to show support for and connections with the Hispanic community in an election year.

"I'm so glad she will be able to renew her old job," said Reid. "She's an excellent ambassador. She served with distinction and that's why she was confirmed today."

The Cable

Three U.S. ambassadors to Iraq defend McGurk

The current U.S. ambassador to Iraq and his two most recent predecessors joined together to defend the nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. envoy in Baghdad, countering calls from several GOP senators for President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination.

"We write to express our enthusiastic support for Brett McGurk's nomination to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq," Jim Jeffrey, Chris Hill, and Ryan Crocker wrote in a letter today to Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), obtained by The Cable.

"Each of us has previously served in this post, and we share a unique perspective on what it entails," they wrote. "Equally important, each of us has served alongside Brett over a period that now spans eight years. We know him well and we have all relied on him at critical moments. It is from these personal experiences that we note our strongest possible endorsement of Brett's nomination, and we urge the Senate to act swiftly in confirming him."

Jeffrey has been the ambassador in Iraq since 2010, Hill served in that post from 2009 to 2010, and Crocker held the job from 2007 to 2009. Crocker is now the ambassador to Afghanistan and is expected to leave that job soon due to health reasons.

In their letter, the former ambassadors argue that McGurk showed his understanding of the complexities facing Iraq in his June 6 confirmation hearing and said that he has the full trust and confidence of the current leadership team at the embassy.

"We urgently need an ambassador in Iraq and, if confirmed, Brett will be ready to lead from day one," they said.

The former ambassadors noted that the Obama administration called on McGurk to return to Iraq after he left government service in 2009 and said that they relied on McGurk's expertise, leadership, and judgment when dealing with sensitive and important issues. They also said McGurk "cares deeply about Iraq and its people" and "is uniquely positioned to build on all that America has sacrificed over this past decade and to establish the strongest possible relationship between our two countries."

"We need an Ambassador to Iraq," the ambassadors wrote. "Brett is the right man for the job."

McGurk's confirmation vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled for June 19. Kerry has yet to say whether or not he will vote in favor of McGurk's nomination.

"Senator Kerry has said that there are questions and we're in the process of finding answers and evaluating the situation," his spokeswoman Jodi Seth told The Cable