Senate GOP filibusters nominee over pro-gay editorial

Senate Republicans successfully filibustered on Monday the confirmation of an ambassadorial nominee, citing a pro-LGBT editorial she wrote as one reason to vote against her.

The cloture vote to advance the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte for the position of U.S. ambassador to El Salvador failed by 49-37 on a mostly party-line basis.

Aponte has already been serving as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador through recess appointment. But to remain in effect, the nomination must be approved by Jan. 3.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a Tea Party favorite, said on the Senate floor that an editorial in favor of LGBT rights that Aponte wrote was a reason to withhold support for her.

“In her recess-appointed capacity as ambassador to El Salvador, Ms. Aponte has inflamed tensions in the very country where she should be improving diplomatic relations,” DeMint said. “Her decision to publish an opinion piece hostile to the culture of El Salvadorans presents even more doubts about her fitness for the job. This op-ed upset a large number of community and pro-life groups in El Salvador who were insulted by Ms. Aponte’s rhetoric.”

The op-ed, titled “For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist,” was published on June 28 in La Prensa Grafica, a Spanish-language newspaper in El Salvador. The piece followed a call from the State Department to Foreign Services officers urging them to recognize June as the month of Pride overseas.

According to the Associated Press, Aponte wrote, ”No one should be subjected to aggression because of who he is or who he loves. Homophobia and brutal hostility are often based on lack of understanding about what it truly means to be gay or transgender. To avoid negative perceptions, we must work together with education and support for those facing those who promote hatred.”

DeMint never specifically described the piece on the floor Monday as a pro-LGBT editorial. However, DeMint criticized Aponte’s remarks in a November article in the publication Human Events as “lecturing” El Salvador “on the need to accept and support the gay lifestyle.”

According to DeMint, a coalition of more than three dozen groups in El Salvador wrote to the Senate asking members to oppose Aponte’s confirmation following publication of the op-ed.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) defended Aponte on the Senate floor as “a qualified, talented Latina” and said Republican attacks on her op-ed were unwarranted because it was consistent with her country’s policy.

“The true irony of this trumped-up allegation is that the editorial, which Republicans assert stirred controversy and was rebuked throughout Latin America, mirrored a May 2010 decree by Salvadoran President Funes prohibiting discrimination by the Government of El Salvador based on sexual orientation,” Menendez said.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) were the only the Republicans who joined Democrats in support of Aponte. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) sided with Republicans in voting “no.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also cast a “no” vote, but doing so allows him to bring up the nomination again.

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney slammed Republicans for filibustering the nomination as an example of Republicans choosing “to play politics with America’s national interests.”

“Today’s filibuster is one more example of the type of political posturing and partisanship the American people are tired of seeing in Washington,” Carney said. “Now is not the time for playing politics, it’s time for Congress to do the right thing for the American people.”

But the op-ed was only one issue that Republicans raised about Aponte. The GOP also took issue with a relationship she had with an insurance salesman named Roberto Tamayo that ended in 1994. In 1993, a Cuban intelligence defector accused Tamayo of being a Cuban spy and trying to recruit supporters. However, Tamayo was later reportedly said to have been an informant for the FBI.

On the Senate floor, DeMint accused the Obama administration of not providing enough information on this issue and Senate Foreign Affairs Chair John Kerry (D-Mass.) of not allowing enough discussion on these reports.

“For nearly a year and a half, Republicans have been continually denied access to Ms. Aponte’s full FBI record and other information, as the Obama administration has rebuffed our requests related to Ms. Aponte’s past,” DeMint said.

On the Senate floor, Menendez disputed the notion that anything in Aponte’s FBI file should detract from her ability to continue to serve as ambassador.

“Pursuant to precedent, one Democrat and one Republican reviewed that file,” Menendez said. “I was the Democrat. There was nothing in the file to substantiate the concerns raised by my colleagues.”

The issue of Aponte’s relationship came up before in 1994 when former President Clinton nominated her to become U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic. She asked that her nomination be withdrawn after her relationship became public.

A Senate aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said any justification the Republicans used to vote against Aponte was “just bullshit.”

“It was just this toss around,” the aide said. “They just floated those two things over and over again. I did not expect it to get traction, and it got traction. In fact, I think, at the end, they had problems with Democrats, I know they had only one [vote ‘no’], but I think they had more and they had to twist some arms.”

It’s unclear whether Reid will bring the nomination to the floor before Aponte’s recess appointment ends. For the cloture vote to be successful, Reid would need support from 11 more senators.

Asked whether the confirmation vote could still succeed, the anonymous aide expressed skepticism and said, “I don’t see where this is going anywhere.”

By Chris Johnson – The Washington Blade