Hispanic caucus slam GOP opposition to Obama nominee as attack on Latinos

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus slammed Republicans on Tuesday for blocking President Obama’s nomination of the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, and cast it as an attack on the Latino community.

Republican senators have vowed to oppose confirmation of Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte, who is serving as the result of a recess appointment. A vote to keep her in that office could be held this week.

The White House and lawmakers argue a “no” vote would hurt U.S. prestige in Central America, and Democrats on Tuesday said it could also hurt Republicans with the fastest-growing group of voters in the U.S.

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Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) called it “an attack on the entire Latino community,” while Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) pointed to the Republican opposition to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination. By rejecting Aponte’s nomination, the GOP would be telling millions of young Hispanic girls that they would oppose their appointment as well, he said.

GOP opposition in the Senate has come largely from Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.).

At a hearing on her nomination last week, DeMint took issue with an op-ed that Aponte wrote in a Salvadoran newspaper, in which he said she “strongly promoting the homosexual lifestyle” and “upset a large number of community and pro-family groups in El Salvador who were insulted by Ms. Aponte's attempt to impose a pro-gay agenda in their country.”

A spokesman for the Obama administration rejected these criticisms in a statement to The Hill, saying that Aponte was a tremendous asset for the U.S. in El Salvador, where she is strongly respected and supported “by all sides.”

Rubio said he is opposing Aponte’s nomination until the Obama administration agrees to reform its Latin American diplomatic strategy to include “significant bilateral and regional measures to encourage a return to constitutional order in Nicaragua.”

Rubio said he also wants the administration to impose additional sanctions against the Cuba for imprisoning the social worker Alan Gross over allegations that he was attempting to overthrow the country’s regime. 

Republicans also have raised Aponte’s relationship many years ago with a Cuban businessman who was accused of having ties to Fidel Castro’s regime. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a vocal critic of Castro’s regime, has defended Aponte from this criticism, and the ambassador has been cleared by the FBI and received security clearances in government.

DeMint said he would see to it that Aponte’s nomination faced stiff opposition if it is brought to the Senate floor for a vote. The conservative Heritage Action for America group said on Tuesday that it was planning to score the vote.

Menendez on Tuesday said Republicans would be sending the wrong message to young Hispanics.

“You will be telling the millions of Hispanic girls growing throughout the United States that no matter how hard you work, no matter how qualified you are, if you’re not from the right side of the political aisle, then someday you too might be prevented from achieving your dreams and aspirations,” he said.

Updated at 6:08 p.m.

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