Although U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has concerns about re-establishing ties with Cuba, he said Tuesday that the diplomat who has played a key role in talks with the Castro regime should still be confirmed as the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday voted 12-7 to advance the nomination of Roberta Jacobson to the full Senate. She currently serves as the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Jacobson was nominated in July, but her confirmation has been stalled by senators who have criticized her for advancing President Obama’s policy toward Cuba that seeks to normalize relations after more than 50 years of tension between the two countries.
Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, said that Jacobson was merely serving the role she was hired for.
“I view Ms. Jacobson as somebody who was doing what her boss, the president of the United States, asked her to do,” he told reporters on a conference call. “And I do not believe that necessarily disqualifies her for the job of ambassador to Mexico."
Cuban-American Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., have been two of the most vocal of Jacobson's opponents and have threatened to stall her nomination further.
Despite his support for the nominee and Tuesday's vote, Cornyn conceded that the process to fully confirm Jacobson still faces considerable hurdles because of the Senate's schedule leading up to the end of the year.
“We could have that [confirmation] vote by consent, but absent consent of all 100 senators then [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell would have to file for cloture, and we’d have to go through a pretty lengthy process," Cornyn said, referring to the process that would avoid a potential filibuster. “I do intend to ask Sen. McConnell to schedule that. But when is going to be a matter of his choosing.”
Cornyn said he thinks it’s possible an agreement can be reached where senators will agree to a “limited period of debate” and a subsequent vote, which would allow senators to have their opposition to Jacobson and Cuba recorded.
“My point is I just believe that the bilateral relationship with Mexico is so important to the United States and to Texas, and we simply need to fill that position,” he said.
Cuba isn’t the only reason some have gone on record against Jacobson’s nomination. U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, told the Tribune he thinks the State Department as a whole has had “its head in the sand” when it comes to addressing the violence in Mexico. While the U.S. House has no role in the confirmation process, Vela said he would also join those opposing Jacobson's nomination.
Vela, whose district sits across from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, specifically said the department should have been more active in pressing Mexico for answers when three siblings from Progreso, Texas, went missing in October.
Erica Alvarado Rivera, 26, and her brothers, Alex, 22, and Jose, 21, were found dead weeks after they disappeared. That was followed by the disappearance of Ernesto and Jesus Garcia, U.S. Army veterans, who disappeared in Tamaulipas on Feb. 2. Vela’s office said on Tuesday that they have no new information about the two cases.
“My view of the State Department’s perspective on the deaths of the Alvarado siblings and the missing Garcia brothers is that these incidents never happened,” he said.
The U.S. State Department didn't immediately respond to a request to comment for this story.
Cornyn said he appreciated Vela’s concerns but added that without a permanent ambassador, things aren’t likely to improve at all.
“We need a full-time ambassador on the job dealing with trade, immigration, security and these other issues,” he said. “Congressman Vela’s concerns, and my concerns as well, would also benefit from a full-time ambassador from getting in place.