December 15, 2015

Udall Urges Senate to Confirm Roberta Jacobson as Ambassador to Mexico

Jacobson is an example of the consequences of senators blocking qualified nominees ? her confirmation waits over disagreement with the president's Cuba policy

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime advocate for Senate reform, took his concerns over lack of progress on a key confirmation to the Senate floor. Udall urged the Senate to act on Roberta Jacobson's nomination to serve as ambassador to Mexico. Although she has been called one of the most qualified nominees for the position ever, there is a Senate "hold" on Jacobson's confirmation because of a disagreement with the Obama administration over its Cuba policy.

Jacobson has served as the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, where she helped carry out the president's policy of re-opening diplomatic relations with Cuba - a move that Udall strongly agrees with but that is opposed by others in Congress who do not support diplomatic engagement with the Cuban government. Udall pointed out that Jacobson's confirmation has nothing to do with diplomatic relations with Mexico, which are critical to U.S. security and the economy. She is qualified for the job and deserves to be confirmed, he said.

"Our relations with Mexico are critical, and the ambassador plays a key role on issues ranging from our economy to our national security. Those of us who live in border states understand how urgent these issues are - drug trafficking, the Central American child migrant crisis, gang violence, immigration. All of these issues touch us almost daily in a border state," Udall said after his speech. "Frankly, it's embarrassing that we haven't filled this position since former Ambassador Anthony Wayne retired in July. As someone who has worked with Roberta on multiple issues, I know she is the right person for the job."

"The holdup is yet another example of how the Senate's customs are being twisted around over politics. A senator disagrees with the president's decision to open diplomatic relations with Cuba, so he's blocking the Senate from confirming the president's ambassador to Mexico. The majority leader could move her nomination forward if he wanted to. He doesn't have to honor the hold, and I'm calling his bluff," Udall said. "I have no problem with a senator voicing his or her objection to a policy or a nominee based on the merits. But holding up nominees to make a point just hurts the American people - it means important jobs don't get done."

In his speech, Udall added that Jacobson is only one example of the consequences of the Senate's failure to act on nominations. There is a growing backlog of nominees waiting for confirmation, including 19 judges, 12 ambassadors, and the Treasury Department's under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes.

"We are on track for the lowest number of confirmations in three decades. We now have 30 judicial districts with emergency levels of backlogs. At the beginning of the year, we had 12. Thousands of people wait for their day in court because there is no judge to hear the case," Udall said in his remarks. "When we fail to give these nominees a vote - up or down - our government fails too. 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, seeing that justice is done. These vital posts should not go unfilled."

Udall has championed reforming the Senate rules since he was elected to the Senate in 2009. Progress has been made - the Senate did away with "secret holds" that allowed one senator to block a vote in secret. The Senate also can no longer filibuster a nomination for cabinet or judicial appointments, except those to the U.S. Supreme Court. Udall continues to push for reforms, including a "talking filibuster," which would require senators to voice their objection on the Senate floor.


The following are Udall's remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, I rise today to urge consideration of the president's nominee for ambassador to Mexico. I do so for two simple reasons. One, this is a critical position, vacant since July. And two, Roberta Jacobson is highly qualified for this position, and her nomination deserves our attention. I do so as a senator from a border state, and as a senator who believes we have a constitutional duty-to advise and consent.

We have a distinguished candidate ready to serve. We have strong support for her on both sides of the aisle. What we need is an up or down vote. The L.A. Times has called Roberta Jacobson "among the most qualified people ever to be tapped to represent the U.S. in Mexico."

She has impressive experience, including important work on the Merida Initiative to fight drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. She has served ably as State Department Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs working to improve relations in our hemisphere and to engage with Cuba, opening opportunities for Americans after over 50 years of a failed U.S. policy.

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

Our relations with Mexico are critical - affecting our economy, affecting our security. 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.

My state shares a border with our neighbor to the south. We also share a cultural heritage and trade that grows every year. Hundreds of millions of dollars in goods and services move between our nations. Over 36,000 jobs in my state depend on U.S.-Mexico trade. This increased trade is an engine of economic growth. Exports from New Mexico to Mexico have soared, from about $70 million dollars a year 15 years ago, to over $1.5 billion dollars a year now.

In New Mexico, we know how important this partnership is. We need a strong ambassador in Mexico City working on trade and border security and cultural ties between our nations. We need an ambassador to work with Mexico-and with other Central American nations-to address immigration issues, to help resolve the migrant crisis, to crack down on border violence and drug trafficking.

This is clear to both sides of the aisle-especially those of us from border states. As someone who has worked with Roberta on multiple issues, I know she is the right person for the job.

I especially want to thank my Republican colleague, Senator Flake, for his efforts. He is concerned-as I am-that this cannot wait. As Senator Flake said recently in Politico, "It's crunch time now. Once you get into next year it's easier to just put them on hold until the next president assumes office in 2017."

I hope we will not let that happen. I hope we will listen to Senator Flake because it is crunch time, because we do need to get this done.

What is holding up her nomination? It isn't her qualifications. It isn't concerns about how she would be able to carry out her duties as ambassador. The problem is rooted in something else. Something that should have no bearing on whether she is confirmed: Presidential politics and policy differences with the administration over her work with Cuba.

This year, the world celebrated the re-opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. As the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta helped negotiate this shift.

We have begun a 21st century relationship with Cuba-one I am convinced will bring freedom and openness. I congratulate the president for leading this historic change.

A few senators disagree with his Cuba policy, and so they are blocking Roberta Jacobson's confirmation to serve as ambassador...to Mexico.

Mr. President, unfortunately, this is just one example of how the rules are being twisted around. She is one of many qualified nominees whose confirmations are on hold. Many of them wait because one or two senators want to make a political point or extract political pain.

Not happy with the president? Block his nominee. Not okay with a policy? Keep the seat vacant. The real aim is the administration. No matter how qualified, the nominee is just an easy target.

Meanwhile, the backlog grows: 19 judges, half a dozen ambassadors, even the top official at the Treasury Department-whose job is to go after the finances of terrorists. We are on track for the lowest number of confirmations in three decades.

We now have 30 judicial districts with emergency levels of backlogs. At the beginning of the year, we had 12. Thousands of people wait for their day in court because there is no judge to hear the case.

Important work for the American people is left undone. When we fail to do our job, when we fail to give these nominees a vote-up or down-our government fails too.

Mr. President, 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, seeing that justice is done. These vital posts should not go unfilled.