Senate Confirms Aponte Handing Obama Victory in Stand-Off over Puerto Rican Appointee

The Senate confirmed Mari Carmen Aponte as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador on Thursday, ending a standoff between the GOP and the White House that threatened to anger the Puerto Rican community in the swing state of Florida.

The Senate voted 62 to 37 to end the Republican-led logjam, unclogging the Puerto Rican-born attorney’s pipeline to confirmation, delivered by a voice vote less than an hour later.

The Washington lawyer and Hispanic activist served as ambassador in San Salvador from September 2010 to December 2011. Facing GOP opposition, Obama had made her a recess appointee, but her temporary tenure ran out at year's end.

Aponte’s nomination put Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in a tight position. Many in his party raised objections to Aponte, citing her outspoken views in favor of gay rights. She was unpopular among conservative Cuban Americans in his state because of allegations that she had a romance with a Cuban spy.

But Aponte is highly popular among Florida’s more than 400,000 voters of Puerto Rican origin, who pressured Rubio other lawmakers to approve her nomination. Aponte is the first Puerto Rican to hold a U.S. ambassadorial position, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Rubio, himself a Cuban-American, voted against Aponte’s confirmation in committee in December, but switched his position shortly after the December vote and helped enough corral enough Republican Senators to clear the 60-vote threshold.

Rubio said in a statement that he had secured the votes back in December and accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) of purposely delaying her nomination “to help the White house play divisive ethnic politics” by “dividing two groups of Hispanics against each other.”

With polls showing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in a tight race, both Democrats and Republicans hope to draw votes from the roughly 412,000 voters of Puerto Rican origin in the swing state of Florida come November.

Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the only senator to speak before the vote to invoke cloture on Aponte’s nomination, blasted Republicans for delaying her confirmation on Twitter.

Eight other Republicans joined all the Democrats and independents on Thursday's vote.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton personally lobbied on Aponte's behalf in the days leading up to the vote.

Includes reporting from the Associated Press