Gov. Sam Brownback overcame partisan opposition Thursday to earn the Republican-led U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s endorsement of his appointment as ambassador of international religious freedom in the administration of President Donald Trump.
The party-line committee vote of 11-10 moved the nomination to the full Senate for consideration. In July, Trump nominated Brownback for the post within the U.S. Department of State. He went through a confirmation hearing earlier this month.“I appreciate the work and support of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and thank them for voting on my nomination favorably,” Brownback said on Twitter.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., urged the full Senate to promptly affirm Brownback’s nomination so that he could begin work “fighting religious persecution around the world.”
If approved by the Senate, he would resign as Kansas governor and be replaced by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is seeking the 2018 GOP nomination for governor.
Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat also running for governor, said the departure of Brownback from Kansas political circles would be a welcomed change.
“I think he’s so toxic now it’s good that he’s moving on,” Ward said.
His nomination came under fire Thursday when the Human Rights Campaign, an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and activists, sent a letter to senators on the committee urging them to reject Brownback as ambassador-at-large.
“Given Governor Brownback’s anti-LGBTQ record, it is deeply worrying that he could use this position to promote the harmful idea that individuals holding certain religious views should somehow be permitted to discriminate against LGBTQ people or other minorities,” said David Stacy, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.
“This is particularly concerning because LGBTQ people often face persecution in the same countries where religious minorities face persecution,” Stacy said.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat and 2016 vice presidential nominee, criticized Brownback for repealing in 2015 an executive order issued by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius prohibiting discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state employees.
At his confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., Brownback emphasized the narrow focus for the ambassadorship and avoided questions on access to abortion and the rights of LGBTQ people.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental right of every human no matter where they live, who they are or what they believe,” Brownback said. “It is the right to do with your own Soul what you choose, without the interference of any government or group.”
Brownback, while serving in the U.S. Senate, was a member of the chamber’s foreign relations committee for eight years.
In the past, Brownback has advocated for international religious freedom. While a member of the U.S. Senate, he supported a bill that established the ambassadorship devoted to religious freedom. He also traveled to Darfur to combat genocide. Civil liberties, abortion-rights and pro-Muslim groups have criticized his policies as governor.
After he was nominated by the Trump administration, Brownback said he thought the state of religious freedom was worsening worldwide.
“Time is short,” he said. “Every passing day finds more people persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and even killed for simply practicing their innermost convictions. We cannot let this dire situation continue without an aggressive response.”