February 11, 2016

Udall Reiterates Concerns about Lack of an Ambassador to Mexico, Urges Senate to Confirm Qualified Nominee Roberta Jacobson

Jacobson's nomination on hold over disagreements with the president's Cuba policy

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime advocate for Senate reform, pushed for a Senate vote on Roberta Jacobson's nomination to serve as ambassador to Mexico. Although Jacobson has been called one of the most qualified nominees for the position ever, her nomination has been on hold for almost six months in large part due to a few senators' objections to her role in the Obama administration's Cuba policy.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Udall reiterated his concerns about leaving such an important diplomatic position unfilled for so long and made an official request to confirm Jacobson's nomination by unanimous consent. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) objected on behalf of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), meaning Udall's request was unsuccessful.

"This is a critical position with one of our nation's largest trading partners - it's now been vacant for over half a year. Important work is left undone." said Udall, who has urged Jacobson's confirmation for months. "We have a highly qualified career nominee. She is ready to serve. She has solid support on both sides of the aisle. There's no doubt in my mind, and I think many other senators' minds, that we need a strong ambassador in Mexico City to represent our interests."

Jacobson is a career member of the Senior Executive Service, and has served as the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, where she helped promote U.S. policies in the region, including the president's decision to re-open diplomatic relations with Cuba. Udall has advocated strongly for diplomatic engagement with the Cuban government, but others in Congress oppose it.

Udall explained in his speech that the U.S. partnership with Mexico is critical to the economy in New Mexico and nationally. As residents of a border state, New Mexicans know how important it is for the two nations to work together on trade, border security, law enforcement and other issues, he said.

"We ... share a cultural heritage and trade that grows every year. Exports from New Mexico to Mexico have soared from about $70 million a year 15 years ago to over $1.5 billion a year now. Over 36,000 jobs in my state depend on U.S.-Mexico trade," Udall said. "It is hard to explain to my constituents that we do not have an ambassador to Mexico because a few senators disagree with the president's policy with Cuba."

Below are Udall's remarks as prepared for delivery:

Madam President,

I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to executive session to consider the following nomination: Calendar No. 365; that the Senate vote without intervening action or debate on the nomination; that if confirmed, the President be immediately notified of the Senate's action and the Senate then resume legislative session.

I urge support for the nomination of Roberta Jacobson to be Ambassador to Mexico for two reasons: One, this is a critical position with one of our nation's largest trading partners - it's now been vacant for over half a year. Important work is left undone. Two, we have a highly qualified career nominee. She is ready to serve. She has solid support on both sides of the aisle. There's no doubt in my mind, and I think many other senators' minds, that we need a strong ambassador in Mexico City to represent our interests.

Mexico is working with us to stop those who cross our southern border illegally. Mexico is our third largest trading partner. One million American citizens live in Mexico. It is our top tourist destination with millions of U.S. visitors every year.

There is a lot of work to be done on combating the illegal drug trade, including the trafficking of illegal opioids; reforming the judiciary and creating economic opportunities on both sides of the border; working together to address immigration issues, while cracking down on deadly border violence.

In New Mexico, we know how important this partnership is. My state shares a border with Mexico. We also share a cultural heritage and trade that grows every year. Exports from New Mexico to Mexico have soared from about $70 million a year 15 years ago to over $1.5 billion a year now. Over 36,000 jobs in my state depend on U.S.-Mexico trade. Arizona, California, and Texas also share similar and deep relations with the Mexican people, and not confirming this nominee harms them as well.

Roberta Jacobson is a dedicated public servant. The LA Times has called Roberta Jacobson, "among the most qualified people ever to be tapped to represent the U.S. in Mexico." She has worked on the Merida Initiative to fight drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. She has served ably as Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department. Last year, the president re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba. After over 50 years of a failed policy with Cuba, Roberta helped negotiate this historic shift, giving the United States an opportunity to engage with the Cuban people. Time and again, she did her job, and she did it very well.

She was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support. That was weeks ago, and still we wait.

Madam President, it is hard to explain to my constituents that we do not have an ambassador to Mexico because a few senators disagree with the president's policy with Cuba. They don't understand it. The folks back home don't understand it, and neither do I. This is not just the president's team, this is our team; this is America's team working on trade and security, moving our economy - moving all of us forward.

We need an ambassador in Mexico City. Roberta Jacobson is more than qualified to serve. I urge unanimous consent for her nomination.