TOPEKA — The U.S. Senate completed substantive work for the year without voting on Gov. Sam Brownback’s nomination to be ambassador of international religious freedom in the administration of President Donald Trump.
Brownback, who served 14 years in the U.S. Senate prior to election as Kansas governor, said in November he anticipated a vote on his nomination as an ambassador-at-large to take place before Christmas. He was nominated by Trump in July.
His nomination was advanced 11-10 by a Senate committee in October, but Democrats blocked a floor vote due to concern about Brownback’s revocation of an executive order prohibiting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender state government workers in Kansas.
Congress began the holiday recess Friday, with no regular action scheduled until January. Failure to advance the nomination this calendar year means it must be returned to the White House. Trump could renominate Brownback.
“Democrats are just holding things up,” Brownback said Tuesday in an interview. “The votes are there for me to pass.”
Inability of Brownback’s nomination to gain sufficient traction in Washington, D.C., complicates political relationships in Topeka. Brownback has delivered farewell speeches across Kansas and handed off state budget and personnel decisions to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who is eager to formally take charge and advance his bid to win the 2018 Republican nomination for governor.
In a recent fundraising message to Republicans, Colyer expressed confidence he was on the verge of being sworn in as governor of Kansas.
“My family and I are excited to enter the new chapter in our lives as I become governor of Kansas,” he said in a pitch to supporters. “My commitment to you as governor is to listen, to serve and to lead.”
Brownback has pushed back against comments by Republicans and Democrats that his willingness to defer at times to Colyer fostered a leadership vacuum.
“It’s a very awkward situation,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. “Regardless of what they say, that the governor’s still in charge, he’s not.”
Nomination gridlock means Brownback still could be Kansas’ governor when the 2018 Legislature convenes Jan. 8 and the State of the State speech is delivered Jan. 9.
Congress adjourned until Jan. 3 after adopting a bill Thursday to finance government operations until mid-January. The House bill passed 231-188 and the Senate followed 66-32. All six members of the Kansas delegation supporting the stop-gap measure to avert a government shutdown.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the U.S. senators from Kansas, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, were unable to persuade Democrats to lift roadblocks to Brownback’s confirmation. Roberts said it was unreasonable for his colleagues to sidetrack Brownback’s nomination, while Moran praised Brownback as a “consistent defender of religious freedom.”
Under Senate rules, Brownback’s nomination must be returned to the White House because it wasn’t resolved in 2017 and the Senate didn’t unanimously agree to carry over the nomination.
In an interview Tuesday with the Associated Press, Brownback said his nomination had taken “way too long, as have a number of nominations this year.”