Senate Democrats are planning to stall the nomination of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom because of Brownback’s position on marriage. The obstructionism will force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take extra procedural steps on his nomination in order to proceed with his confirmation.
The showdown will likely just be a few days of political noise, since under current rules executive appointees such as Brownback only need a simple majority of 51 votes to overcome extra hurdles for confirmations. Nevertheless, Brownback endured questioning from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) about his executive order in 2015 which moved the debate over LGBTQ work protections back to the Kansas state legislature.
The Kansas governor, like so many other conservative appointees with strong religious convictions before him, has been smeared on the Hill by the Human Rights Campaign for being a “staunch anti-LGBTQ politician.” The ACLU also went after him, claiming his view of religious freedom gives people a “license to discriminate against others.” The LGBTQ rights groups’ lobbying efforts caused Brownback’s nomination to narrowly pass the committee with a strictly partisan margin of 11-10.
In the face of this partisanship, the governor hasn’t lost his excitement for the position. He told local Kansas reporters that he was struck by the importance of the ambassadorship role when he attended Mass at his Catholic parish in Topeka, saying: “I took communion. And people face death around the world for [that] simple act...”.
Nina Shea at the Center for Religious Freedom told the Kansas City Star that Brownback’s appointment could help boost the office’s influence because of his “political connections in Washington and respect and experience in government and Congress.” Brownback actually supported the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act that created the ambassadorial post when he was a Senator.
He has been called a strong candidate by a range of evangelical organizations, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Focus on the Family. If approved by the Senate, Brownback would resign as Kansas governor and be replaced by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is seeking the 2018 GOP nomination for governor.