After long wait, Senate confirms Roberta Jacobson as U.S. ambassador to Mexico

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It was a bumpy ride, and a long wait, but a veteran State Department official finally has been confirmed to become the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved by voice vote President Barack Obama’s nominee, Roberta Jacobson, to the post, which has been vacant since last summer.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. was sending "one of our finest diplomats to advance this important relationship."

"I have long relied on Roberta's wise counsel and good cheer, and I am confident that as ambassador, she will bring her extensive experience and judgment to this critical post," Kerry said in a statement.

Mexico's Foreign Relations department said Jacobson's confirmation "demonstrates the importance of a bilateral relationship which, given its maturity, transcends internal situations."

"Ambassador Jacobson will give a new impetus to our bilateral relations and will contribute to the consolidating anew institutional structure, lending more certainty and solidity to this relationship," the Foreign Relations department said in a statement.

During nine months Jacobson’s confirmation faced stiff resistance from several lawmakers, led by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American who opposes the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba, in which Jacobson played a central role.

Others who were against paving the way for Jacobson to be ambassador included Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, and Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. Both Cruz and Menendez are of Cuban descent and did not support restoring diplomatic relations with the island nation.

Rubio is said to have agreed to remove his hold and allow the vote in exchange for assurances that U.S. sanctions against Venezuela – set to expire by the end of this year – would be renewed and possibly expanded.

Jacobson, had been serving as Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, was nominated last July and received approval by the Foreign Relations Committee in November. The position was vacant for nearly a year, the longest the U.S. has gone without an ambassador to Mexico – one of the country’s key allies and trading partners.

Jacobson becomes the first woman to hold the post.

Rubio has pressed for provisions that would extend the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela that freezes property and assets in this country held by several Venezuelan officials, including people in the military and intelligence agency, and denies them visas to come here, among other things.

The targets of the sanctions were accused of violating human rights, corruption, and using violence to suppress opponents of the government.

Rubio wants them broadened to penalize more Venezuelan government officials in higher ranks.

Politico reported that by Thursday, the Senate seemed poised to move a vote either to confirm Jacobson or schedule a day and time for a vote.

“I think we’ve got it hopefully figured out here,” Politico quoted Rubio as saying on Wednesday. "Perhaps we’ll have action on it in the next 24 hours before we leave for recess. Very optimistic. It sounds like all systems go.”

On Wednesday, Rubio devoted a Senate floor speech to Venezuela and the government’s human rights abuses. He suggested sanctions would be extended for three more years.

“The United States has a national interest in making sure Venezuela does not spiral even further out of control,” Rubio said during the speech.

The AP contributed to this report.

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