Border state senators call for long-stalled vote on ambassador to Mexico

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, joined senators from New Mexico and Minnesota to urge a vote on Roberta Jacobson’s nomination to be ambassador to Mexico, saying she’s qualified and that the post is too important to leave vacant for months at a time. (Photo by Danika Worthington/Cronkite News)

U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Javier Palomarez said opponents are “playing politics” with the nomination of Roberta Jacobson to be the next ambassador to Mexico, which sends the wrong message to that country. (Photo by Danika Worthington/Cronkite News)

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, before a Capitol news conference where he joined three other senators who urged their colleagues to stop blocking the nomination of Roberta Jacobson, an assistant secretary of state, to be ambassador to Mexico. (Photo by Danika Worthington/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators Thursday called on their colleagues to stop blocking Roberta Jacobson’s nomination as the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico, saying “we need our top diplomat in Mexico.”

“We have ports humming with commerce, trade, travel and we need a strong ambassador to Mexico to work on these issues,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who was joined by New Mexico Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota.

“There’s just no reason” for her appointment to be delayed, Flake said.

But a key opponent of the appointment disagrees.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, “maintains his strong opposition to this nominee on the basis of her failure to be transparent during the confirmation process, inability to provide straightforward answers, and poor track record on a wide range of issues as the assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs,” a spokeswoman said in an email.

“It is his belief that Ms. Jacobson is unprepared for this important role and lacks the trustworthiness we need in an ambassador to one of our most important partners,” spokeswoman Kristen Morrell continued.

Jacobson, an assistant secretary of state who was the White House’s point person on reopening relations with Cuba, was nominated to the ambassadorship in June by President Barack Obama. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-7 in November to approve the nomination, but it has been blocked from a floor vote since.

The senators who support her nomination say she is more than qualified, pointing to her 28 years of diplomatic experience and saying she would likely get bipartisan support if her nomination ever reaches the floor.

– Cronkite News video by Katie Bieri

“This is just one more example of what frustrates our constituents – when we’re not able to do our job because of a few obstructionists,” Heinrich said. “We don’t get to ignore our constitutional job to make sure that these appointments are successfully filled just because it’s an election year.”

Javier Palomarez, CEO and president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the failure to appoint an ambassador sends the wrong message to Mexico, the third-largest trading partner with the U.S., with the two countries doing $500 billion in trade a year.

“Beyond the political landscape, this is an important commercial relationship that for time immemorial has worked very well for both partners,” said Palomarez, who joined the four senators at a morning news conference at the Capitol.

“We have some individuals that, because of the issues, are playing politics and withholding a vote at a time frankly when this country, we need to better our relationship with Mexico, not make it worse than it currently is,” he said.

Palomarez said border states like Arizona, Texas and New Mexico are where “the proverbial rubber meets the road” in the economic benefits between the U.S. and Mexico.

“This is where that trade is happening,” he said. “This is where American small businesses are creating jobs, creating economic development and spurring their local economies, largely due to the trades that they do with our neighbors to the south.”

Flake noted that Arizona shares $9 billion in trade with Mexico, where 1 million American expatriates live and 20 million Americans visit each year. That’s in addition to the obvious security issues the two countries share at the border, he said

“Anybody who’s worked with her (Jacobson), who’s dealt with her, realizes that she is a professional, well-qualified, and there’s simply no reason to block her vote on the Senate floor,” Flake said.

But when Udall tried to call for a vote on the nomination Thursday afternoon, it was objected to by Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, on behalf of himself and Rubio.

Flake, who has endorsed Rubio’s presidential bid, would only say Thursday that he and Rubio “have talked about it (the nomination).” He said he supports Udall’s efforts to get a vote, something Udall said he would keep trying to do even if it takes a while.

“Si, se puede,” Udall joked. “Approve Roberta Jacobson. Si, se puede, we can get this done.”