Former U.S. Senator and Cabinet Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, may be in line for yet another job in the U.S. Government. His name has surfaced as a strong candidate for Ambassador to Mexico. If selected, it could go a long way toward soothing some of the bad blood created between the two countries during the last presidency.
Salazar, elected to the Senate in 2004 and named Interior Secretary under President Barak Obama in 2009, is a long-time friend and ally of President Biden. He served as co-chair of Biden’s Latino Leadership Committee. Salazar, now back in Colorado, practices law for the international firm of WilmerHale.
Salazar, a graduate of Colorado College and the University of Michigan Law School, has deep roots in Colorado and regularly refers to himself as a ‘12th generation son of Colorado and the Southwest.’ The Salazar family name is well known in the San Luis Valley, with branding on both a large potato farming operation and cattle. The family has been tilling the land since the mid-1800’s.
While a number of high profile Washington sources, including The Hill and Axios, have given Salazar the inside track to the Mexico ambassadorial spot, other names that have surfaced include former U.S. envoy and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, former U.S. Congressman Julian Castro, former Obama confidante Ben Rhodes and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
A Salazar pick could go a long way toward soothing or even erasing an array of clumsy, but targeted unforced errors and diplomatic slights that occurred between the two countries under ex-President Donald Trump. One of these occurred just prior to his defeat in the 2020 Presidential Election when Trump authorized the arrest of former Mexican defense minister and retired general Salvador Cienfuegos on drug and money laundering charges. The arrest, made in Los Angeles as the former Mexican government official was arriving with his family, created yet another strain on ties between the two nations. The Mexican government said it had not been forewarned that Cienfuegos, considered a diplomatic faux pas.
If Salazar is selected for the diplomatic post one of his first jobs is to heal fissures created by the previous administration, including Trump’s infamous jab at Mexican immigrants made when he announced his entry into the 2016 presidential race. He infamously referred to Mexican immigrants as “drug dealers, criminals and rapists,” only softening his indictment with a ham-handed, “and some, I assume, are good people.” The ex-President never apologized.
Another signature Trump line and one that carried a strong anti-immigrant message as he touted a border wall was that ‘Mexico would pay for the wall.’ Unsurprisingly, that never happened. There are other issues, as well, not the least of which is the Trump policy of separating families at the border and locking children, some less than a year old, in cages.
Rebuilding and maintaining a strong relationship with Mexico is vital for both nations. Forbes Magazine reported in 2020 that Mexico had supplanted China as America’s number one trading partner with an estimated $614 billion exchange in commerce.
“There is not a more distinguished or qualified statesman than Ken Salazar to be the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico,” said Ken Lane who served as Salazar’s chief of staff during Salazar’s time in the Senate and at Interior. “It is a testament to the importance President Biden places on the important relationship between the U.S. and Mexico,” said the now retired Puebloan. Lane said Salazar’s respect for the two nation’s relationship, knowledge of Mexico’s history, understanding of water, energy, conservation, criminal justice and immigration and ability to speak the languages that unite the two nations are tools that Salazar would bring to the job.
Colorado Democratic State Senator Julie Gonzales also hailed a Salazar pick as both smart and important. “I think it’s just another indication of his ability to build bridges, individually, systemically and internationally,” she said. “Our communities have always been connected and both are impacted by economic policies and immigration.”
Exactly when an official announcement is made remains unknown, though it could be only a matter of days. Because of the vetting process, Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki has not confirmed any specific names to fill any of the open diplomatic positions. It is known that the White House has already begun notifying countries of the President’s selections, a normal diplomatic exercise prior to any official announcements. It is expected that the President will release names of his picks prior to his first official visit overseas next week.