The Washington Post

Obama ambassadorial nominees face a ticking clock

Mari Carmen Aponte, U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, is among Obama’s nominees awaiting votes. (By Luis Romero/Associated Press)

The Obama administration and Senate Democrats lost a bitter fight Thursday over the nomination of former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection — or Wall Street watchdog — when they failed to end a GOP filibuster. Obama indicated he may make a one-year recess appointment for Cordray.

Battles continued over three ambassadorial nominees already serving overseas as recess appointees. They would be required to leave their posts at the end of the year if they aren’t confirmed.

One, Mari Carmen Aponte, appointed in August 2010, is heavily backed by Latinos — especially Puerto Ricans — and has strong support from both major Salvadoran parties. (She even convinced El Salvador to send troops to Afghanistan.) Former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, a Bay of Pigs veteran, has been working hard on her behalf.

But she was approved in committee on a party-line vote and faces strong opposition from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) — in part for an op-ed she wrote opposing discrimination against gays. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) filed late Thursday for a Monday afternoon vote to break the hold.

The second nominee, Norm Eisen, who’s been ambassador to the Czech Republic since last December, had strong conservative support in committee. The Czechs are unhappy at the notion of not having an ambassador. Many conservative foreign policy heavy hitters — including Bush administration foreign policy aide Jamie Fly, National Review Editor John O’Sullivan and Randy Scheunemann, a top aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 campaign and to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott — are backing him, but this one too is a toss-up for the moment. Reid also filed late Thursday for a vote Monday afternoon to break the hold on Eisen.

Career foreign service officer Matthew Bryza’s nomination to stay on as ambassador to Azerbaijan is strongly opposed by the American Armenian community, which argues that he is biased toward the Azeris on the issue of a disputed territory. Senior Democrats, including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), opposed his nomination last time around — Obama gave him a recess appointment a year ago — and are opposing him this time. (Smart money is trending heavy against confirmation.)

Another key ambassadorial nominee, Stanford professor Mike McFaul, who’s now National Security Council senior director for Russia, is being held up by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who’s concerned about giving the Russians classified missile defense system information. Both sides may be able to work through the concerns. After all, it might be worth having someone in Moscow these days.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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