Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s opposition to confirming a U.S. ambassador to El Salvador could do further damage to his hoped-for role as a Republican bridge to Hispanic voters, writes William March of the Tampa Tribune.
This week, Rubio voted against confirming Mari Carmen Aponte, said to be the first Puerto Rican woman ever appointed a U.S. ambassador, citing objections to Obama administration policies in Latin America.
An angry political exchange ensued between Rubio and national Democrats. The issue could reverberate during next year’s campaign, particularly in the large, swing-voting Puerto Rican community of Central Florida.
Democrats accused Rubio of putting the Republican goal of frustrating President Barack Obama ahead of his own Hispanic constituency. The White House said Senate Republicans were “choosing to play politics with America’s national interests.”
Rubio shot back that it was the Democrats playing politics, and canceled planned meetings with high-level administration officials to discuss the appointment.
A Rubio spokesman called it “outrageous that the administration and their allies would inject partisan and ethnic politics into a very serious policy matter.”
Many Republicans hope Rubio, widely seen as the top GOP choice for a presidential running mate next year, can help undercut the Democrats’ large advantage among Hispanic voters.
However, it’s the second time Rubio, a Cuban-American, has opposed a high-level government post for a Puerto Rican. In 2009, while a Senate candidate, he opposed the nomination of then-Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent, to the Supreme Court. She became the nation’s first Hispanic justice.
“Hispanics aren’t homogeneous. Ethnic identity politics is pretty important,” and Puerto Ricans tend to resent Cuban political influence, said University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett. “I would say he’ll have to mend some fences in that community.”
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