Fri 30 Mar, 2012 10:43 am
Mar. 30, 2012
Senate should move quickly on crucial State Department nomination
The following editorial appeared in The Miami Herald on Wednesday, March 28:
When presidents of the Americas gather for a mid-April summit in Colombia, the United States may be the only participating country whose chief diplomatic officer for the region lacks legislative approval. The post of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the point person for U.S. diplomacy, has been officially vacant since the former occupant stepped down last summer.
Six months ago, President Obama nominated a career diplomat, Roberta Jacobson, but she has been stymied by partisan squabbling that has nothing to do with her ability or credentials. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Miami Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs panel, noted at the time that Jacobson has "intimate knowledge and hands-on experience in Latin America."
Yet Sen. Marco Rubio imposed a "hold" on Jacobson, putting her nomination in deep-freeze and leading to months of wrangling over his disagreement with the Obama administration on U.S. policy in Cuba - specifically, the "people-to-people" travel program. The good news is that Rubio lifted his hold last week, saying he had secured an agreement that the State Department would adjust the rules to conform with laws on travel to Cuba.
But holding the nomination of qualified individuals like Jacobson hostage to a policy dispute with the administration is an irresponsible way to proceed.
Jacobson is a deserving, nonpartisan government official and would be the first woman to hold this position - once she gets rid of the "acting" before her title.
That would be a particularly good signal to send to a region where women face centuries-long barriers to equality in traditionally macho societies.
It's particularly frustrating for anyone interested in promoting U.S.-Latin American relations to see this happening once again. Ms. Jacobson's predecessor, Arturo Valenzuela, had to wait months while another Republican senator held up his nomination in a dispute with the administration over policy in Honduras.
Why do Senate lawmakers resort to this tactic to bully administration officials over policy differences in this part of the world? Rarely, if ever, is a single senator allowed to deny office to, say, the assistant secretary for Europe or Asia. Are other parts of the world "more important" than Latin America?
Anyone who thinks so need only be aware of the growing Iranian and Chinese influence in the region. Or look at the trade figures: U.S. exports to the Western Hemisphere rose by more than 24 percent in 2011, to $547 billion, outpacing export growth to the world as a whole. The region accounts for more than one-third of total U.S. trade with all countries.
Yet none of this seems to matter when senators have a pet cause that involves Latin America. It's an insult to the people of Latin America, and egregiously bad timing at a moment when urgent issues are on the agenda and the calendar of events, beginning with the Summit of the Americas April 14-15, is crammed with important events.
Jacobson's approval should be a priority for the Senate in view of the extended vacancy, the upcoming summit and the importance of this position. Republicans have been holding up all non-judicial nominations for months, but at the same time they criticize the administration's neglect of this part of the world.
They can't have it both ways. With Jacobson's nomination approved, the administration would have no more excuses for failing to formulate and execute a robust policy to deal with the economic and security challenges facing the region.
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