Conservative Hispanic group defends Rubio over Reid remark

A conservative Hispanic group is coming to the defense of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio after Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid questioned the Cuban-American lawmaker's commitment to "Hispanic issues" given his early opposition to an ambassadorial nominee who is Puerto Rican.

Reid made the remark in an interview with Politico. Reid criticized Rubio for initially opposing President Obama's nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte for ambassador to El Salvador.

"In Nevada, this woman is seen by the Puerto Rican community, the Hispanic community, as really somebody who is an up-and-rising star. ... I just think it's a mistake for someone who is supposedly representing Hispanic issues to do what (Rubio) has done," Reid said.

But Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, called the criticism by Reid and others "appalling."

"This blatant attempt at racial identity politics is offensive and condescending to all Latinos," he said in a statement Thursday.

"It's insulting for Reid and Obama's minions to imply that all Latinos support a person's nomination to federal office just because he or she is a fellow Latino. Many Latinos and Puerto Ricans opposed the nominations of Mari Carmen Aponte and (Supreme Court Justice) Sonia Sotomayor," Aguilar said.

Aguilar, who is Puerto Rican, said he opposed Aponte for her advocacy of gay rights issues in El Salvador, "not because she is a fellow Puerto Rican."

Aponte served briefly as Obama's ambassador to El Salvador, until her recess appointment expired at the end of 2011 and she was denied a Senate confirmation.

Some conservatives were upset with a gay-rights op-ed she wrote over the summer for an El Salvador newspaper. Her nomination from the start also was burdened by speculation dating back to the 1990s that a former boyfriend had possible ties to the Cuban government -- though the FBI reportedly cleared Aponte of actually being targeted for recruitment herself.

Rubio initially opposed Aponte's nomination, but later relented to support her.

Reid complained to Politico, though, that the Florida senator was not able to deliver the votes for Aponte at the end of 2011.