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Editorial

Senate should ignore Rubio and confirm US ambassador to Mexico

Roberta S. Jacobson spoke with reporters in February of 2015 about the diplomatic efforts taking place with Cuba.Cliff Owen/AP

Our country’s relationship with Mexico is too important to squander over a political war being waged by a presidential candidate who is behind in the polls and seems increasingly desperate to prove his hard-line credentials. We’re talking, of course, about US Senator Marco Rubio, and his misguided efforts to delay the confirmation of President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Mexico.

For nearly seven months, our southern neighbor and trading partner has been without an official representative of the US government. That void is unacceptable in an era where cooperation on border security and drug enforcement is vital for both countries.

But the Florida senator is holding up the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. Unfortunately, the dispute has more to do with Rubio’s tone-deaf opposition to the thawing of US-Cuba relations than it does with Mexico. Rubio, a Cuban-American, is playing to the cheap seats in Florida, where hard-line anti-Cuban sentiment persists. The US Senate needs to rise above this bald-faced political gamesmanship and approve Jacobson’s appointment.

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The reasons are clear. The United States and Mexico share more than just 2,000 miles of border. Mexico is the country’s third-largest trading partner (after China and Canada) and its second-largest export market. About 6 million US jobs depend on trade with Mexico. And there are about 1 million US citizens living in Mexico; some 20 million Americans travel there every year. Beyond those basic facts, cooperation is all the more urgent now that the US government is seeking the extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the drug lord who was recaptured in early January, after his second escape from a top-security Mexican prison. No one should be willing to put the extradition process at risk by not having a US representative in place.

And the nativist rhetoric aimed at Mexico by another presidential candidate, Donald Trump, practically demands that the relationship be tended to sooner rather than later. “We need somebody with political heft in Mexico to carry a different message,” says Jason Marczak, director of the initiative for Latin-American economic growth at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. That message must affirm the US government’s commitment to working with Mexico.

Jacobson has stellar qualifications as a top diplomat. She is a 30-year veteran of the State Department, an influential expert in US-Mexico relations, and would be the first woman to serve in that job. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared her last fall with ample bipartisan support.

Given the importance of the job and the broad swath of support for Jacobson, Rubio’s opposition is a disservice to the country. With only 10 months left in President Obama’s term, time is running out. The Senate should insist that Rubio drop his selfish game and confirm Jacobson.