The Ghosts of Boyfriends Past
by Gail Collins/ New York Times/ Dec. 9, 2011
New unnerving development in Congress: Some senators are claiming that a woman nominated to be ambassador to El Salvador can’t have the job because they don’t like a boyfriend she lived with almost 20 years ago.
These days, it’s hard enough to get kids to understand the possible future employment consequences of appearing naked on Facebook. If they hear about this one, they’ll give up entirely.
The debate involves Mari Carmen Aponte, who has been functioning as ambassador under a recess appointment by President Obama that runs out soon. The Democrats plan to make a last-ditch attempt to approve the nomination, but the Senate Republicans seem determined to block it.
“All of us think we should have an ambassador in El Salvador, but all of us are concerned that we get people who we know are the right people,” said Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. DeMint claimed the Republicans needed more information on Aponte’s relationship with Roberto Tamayo, a Cuban-American insurance salesman with whom she lived in Washington long ago.
Sen. Jim DeMint and Mari Carmen Aponte
A defecting Cuban intelligence agent claimed in 1993 that Fidel Castro’s spies were trying to recruit Aponte through Tamayo, who had friends at the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington. However, a retired U.S. counterintelligence agent told The Washington Times that Tamayo was, in fact, an informant for the F.B.I.
This sounds like a complicated boyfriend. However, who of us does not have a difficult significant other in the distant past? There has to be a statute of limitations on this sort of thing, and my vote would be for a decade, max.
The government checked Aponte and found no nefarious Cuban connection. She broke up with Tamayo in 1994 and has received several top-secret security clearances since. She has many supporters who say she’s terrific, including Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who is second to none in his sensitivity on Cuban-related issues. Her supporters cite a list of achievements during her brief tenure as ambassador, one of which was getting El Salvador to send troops to Afghanistan. (Who knew?)
It’s always been hard to get Obama appointees past Senate Republicans. Remember the time when then-Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky held up the confirmation of the deputy U.S. trade representative because he was angry at Canada for banning the sale of candy-flavored tobacco? Or when Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama held up 70-plus pending nominations because he wanted to make sure a new F.B.I. explosives testing facility would be located in Huntsville?
Those were the good-old days.
Now the Senate Republicans appear to be gripped by more cosmic grievances. This week, they blocked the appointment of Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they disapprove of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Which the Senate approved, with some Republican support, a year and a half ago.
The Republicans say the bureau, which has never been allowed to do anything, needs to be reined in. “I talked to the Senate historian, who said never in the history of the United States Senate has one political party tried to block the nomination of a presidential appointee based on wanting to change the agency,” protested Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio during the Senate debate. To no effect whatsoever.
Also this week, the Republicans blocked Caitlin Halligan, a moderate and well-qualified nominee to the federal court, with arguments that the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, to which Halligan was nominated, has too light a workload.
But about Aponte. The administration had, at one time, hoped to lure Senator Marco Rubio of Florida into supporting the nomination because of her backing in the Hispanic community. However, Rubio recently announced that he will not only oppose Aponte, but also the proposed new ambassador to Ecuador, and pretty much any nominee that has anything to do with the Western Hemisphere, because he disapproves of the administration’s Latin America policy.
This is what is known as spreading a wide net.
Whenever these things happen, the Democrats race off to try to placate the aggrieved Republican. They gave DeMint access to Aponte’s F.B.I. file, even though instances of DeMint’s being placated by anything are about as frequent as confirmed sightings of space aliens.
DeMint then complained that the file was out of date. But, by then, he seemed to be losing interest in the boyfriend issue and had moved on to fuming that while she was in El Salvador, Aponte had written an op-ed essay in a Salvadoran newspaper “lecturing their people on the need to accept and support the gay lifestyle.” Actually, Aponte praised El Salvador for signing a U.N. declaration for the elimination of violence against gays and lesbians. In response to a directive from the State Department urging ambassadors to do something in recognition of Gay Pride Month.
But, really, who’s keeping track?