Gov. Sam Brownback has more hurdles to clear before potentially leaving Kansas to head the Office of International Religious Freedom at the U.S. State Department.
The governor’s name wasn’t among dozens of nominees approved in the Senate this week, nor was it on a list of nominees to hold over until its next session.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said Friday that means when the session ends in early January, Brownback’s nomination will go back to the White House, which would need to renominate him.
It’s unclear how long the process will take. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s office confirmed Thursday that he has talked with Democrats about scheduling a vote on Brownback’s nomination for early January. Corker, a Tennessee Republican, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Brownback has been awaiting confirmation since July, when President Donald Trump picked him for the ambassador-at-large post. His confirmation hearing at the Foreign Relations Committee was in October.
Democrats want a recorded vote rather than a voice vote on Brownback’s confirmation. This week the Senate used voice voting to green-light nominees, including Kansas Solicitor General Stephen McAllister, who was nominated in September to be the next U.S. attorney in Kansas.
Brownback’s nomination has drawn scrutiny from Democrats unhappy with his 2015 decision to repeal anti-discrimination protections for LGBT state workers and his 2016 decision to pull Kansas out of a federal program that resettled refugees.
During the October confirmation hearing, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, pressed Brownback to commit to defending women’s rights and LGBT rights. She pointed to examples of denying women access to abortions for religious reasons. Brownback replied that the International Religious Freedom Office should focus on stopping faith-based discrimination.
The delay in confirming Brownback means the lack of clarity over who is calling the shots in the Governor’s Office — and who will deliver the State of the State address before the Kansas legislative session — will continue a little longer.
In recent months, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has taken over some of the key functions of Brownback’s job, including preparing the 2018 budget proposal and hiring Cabinet officials and other top administrative staff.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.