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Latino Leaders: Maria Echaveste Nomination Politicized

File photo of Maria Echaveste, who served in the Clinton administration and recently withdrew her nomination for Ambassador to Mexico after she failed to get a nomination hearing. SUSAN WALSH / Associated Press

As Maria Echaveste saw it, serving as ambassador to Mexico would have been “strong evidence of the continued value of the American Dream.”

But she withdrew her nomination after failing to get a confirmation hearing, becoming an example, of the failed, politicized nomination process that is making it more difficult to increase the numbers of Latino appointees, says the leader of a coalition of 37 leading Latino groups.

“We are worried that we have been fighting to have better representation of Latinos in government and you have structural challenges that are excluding Latinos from going forward. This is worrisome,” said Hector Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.

Echaveste is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico who served as White House deputy chief of staff under Bill Clinton. She would have been the first woman and first Latina to hold the job.

“She’s an ideal candidate to be ambassador of Mexico. She has a strong, good understanding of both nations,” Sanchez said.

Her nomination was announced Sept. 18, the day before Congress went into recess for the November midterms. Congress returned the week after elections to deal with legislation to fund government operations. Funding bills at the time were due to run out in December and cause a government shutdown.

The Congress also was battling over immigration, and the president’s executive action, that was taken in late November and which many Republicans considered to be unconstitutional.

At the time, Democrats were in charge of the Senate, so Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Echaveste's nomination hearing would have been held by that committee.

“Ms. Echaveste’s file was not cleared in time by the minority (Republican) staff, which is a required step in the confirmation process before any nomination hearing can occur in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” said Juan Pachon, a Menendez spokesman.

Press aides for Sen. Bob Corker, who was the top Republican on the committee last year, did not respond Wednesday evening to questions on whether concerns have been raised by GOP senators about Echaveste. Corker, R-Tenn., is now Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman.

Before giving up the majority leader gavel, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., managed to get other Obama nominations through the process by maneuvering through Republican in-fighting last December. Among those confirmed as a result was Sarah Saldaña, to serve as Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief.

But Echaveste wasn’t among them. With Republicans in control of the Senate beginning in January, Echaveste had to more or less restart the process.

Her years advocating for immigration reform were a likely sticking point given the ongoing debate over immigration that is holding up funding for the Department of Homeland Security.

“As the new Senate convened and I began consultations, it became obvious to me that the confirmation process would take many long months, with virtually no guarantee of success,” Echaveste said in a letter to President Barack Obama last Friday stating her reasons for withdrawing. Echaveste declined to comment further on her decision.

Sanchez said it’s not the first time a Latino nominee has faced such a politically charged nomination. He said others were difficult, including the nominations of Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who is Dominican American; DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Majorkas, a Cuban American and Mari Carmen Aponte, the ambassador to El Salvador who Obama nominated to serve as permanent representative to the Organization of American States.

“We had to build an entire national campaign around Perez to get him confirmed,” Sanchez said. “They have to put their entire life on hold to endure this."