Nominee for Mexican post faces uphill battle over her role in U.S.-Cuba deal

Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, on Jan. 22, 2015.

Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, on Jan. 22, 2015.  (ap)

The confirmation vote on the Obama administration’s nominee for the post of U.S. ambassador in Mexico City may face an uphill battle in the Senate because of her role in the restoration of U.S.-Cuba relations, according to Politico.

The nominee, Roberta Jacobson, is the State Department’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, and played a central role in talks to restore relations.

She must first be confirmed by the Foreign Relations Committee, which includes some members, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who have been vocal opponents of restoring relations between the long-time adversaries based on Cuba’s oppressive regime.

Menendez told Politico that his reluctance to give a thumbs-up to Jacobson transcends her role in U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations.

“That is wrong. I have concerns about her nomination, but not because she participated in the Cuba negotiations,” Menendez said. “When I determine exactly what I intend to do, if it is to oppose her, I will describe the reasons but they will not be based upon her negotiation.”

A Rubio spokeswoman said after Jacobson’s nomination in the summer that he would be studying her record.

"Senator Rubio considers our relationship with Mexico to be one of our most important,” his spokeswoman Brooke Sammon said, according to Associated Press. “He is familiar with Ms. Jacobson's government service, and that record is something he will be closely reviewing."

Politico said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Menendez chaired when Democrats had the majority in the chamber, is expected to approve the nomination, but that it would likely be slow to get any action on the Senate floor.

Republicans now are the majority in the Senate, as well in the House.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the committee, was quoted by Politico as saying that the slow action on Jacobsen’s confirmation is rooted in her role in the about-face in U.S.-Cuba relations. He suggested that it was unfair because her work on the restoration of relations was not a unilateral act, but a carrying out of the administration’s objectives.

The delays have “everything to do with the Cuban policy,” Cardin told Politico. “That’s not Roberta Jacobson. That’s the Obama policy.”

Rubio, who is a 2016 presidential candidate, has long been a hawk on foreign policy, making it a hallmark of his run for the Oval Office.

Politico noted: “Homing in on Jacobson’s nomination for the Mexico position is one way to needle the White House.”

In her nomination hearing in the summer, Menendez engaged in a tough line of questions of Robertson regarding U.S. policies in Latin America.

Politico noted that Jacobson’s nomination is not the only one facing an uphill battle in the Senate as far as ambassador posts, but the Mexico one is among the most important.

Mexico is the U.S.’s third-largest trading partner, as well as the ancestral home of millions of immigrants and Americans living here.

“We have a person who is eminently qualified. No one disagrees with her qualifications. There’s no justification to hold this individual up,” Cardin said. “We have drugs. We have immigrants and refugees, we have bilateral economic relations, we have environmental relations. We have so many things going on with Mexico, we need a confirmed ambassador representing our interests.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who supports lifting the U.S.-Cuba embargo, lamented the controversy over Jacobson.

“It’s unfortunate. She’s eminently qualified,” Politico quoted Flake as saying.

In recent days, Jacobson, a career civil service officer who is fluent in Spanish, speaking it in press conferences and using it on her social media accounts, has tweeted praise for Cuban dissidents.

She hailed the release of a Cuban artist who was jailed for 10 months for trying to release in a park two pigs on which was painted the names of Fidel and Raul Castro.

International human rights groups called his case a vivid demonstration of how Cuba's harsh limits on freedom of expression remain in full force despite the island's economic opening and restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States.

Jacobson also tweeted: “Remembering the life and loss of #Cuba woman of courage & founder of @DamasdBlanco Laura Pollan,” in reference to the founder of the Ladies in White, a dissident group of mothers, wives, daughters and sisters of former or current political prisoners.

Mexican officials have in the past expressed support for Jacobson to be the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City, but have not commented on the controversy over her confirmation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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