Senate confirms Brownback's nomination; Pence casts tie-breaking vote

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback talks to reporters, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, at the Statehouse in...
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback talks to reporters, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The conservative Republican governor had a contentious tenure before President Trump nominated him as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom (AP Photo/John Hanna)(WIBW)
Published: Jan. 24, 2018 at 2:07 PM CST
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The U.S. Senate has advised and consented and Gov. Sam Brownback is on his way to an ambassadorship.

On Wednesday, the Senate signed off on the Kansas Republican's nomination to serve as the Ambassador at Large for International Freedom. He was confirmed by a vote of 50-49.

Shortly after the vote ended and with his confirmation secure, Brownback tweeted to thank President Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, and all of the Senators who supported his nomination.

"I'm looking forward to starting my new position as Ambassador and working hard for the American people and religious freedom around the world," Brownback said.

Once again, the Vice-President was forced to cast the tie-breaking vote. He also broke the earlier 49-49 split in the vote to end debate.

“I’m glad to have the vice president in my corner,” Brownback told reporters after a meeting with Kansas legislative leaders at the statehouse in Topeka.

The reaction

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts quickly reacted to the confirmation, saying his was proud his former colleague would be leading the nation's efforts to promote religious tolerance and fighting against religious prosecution and discrimination.

“Sam Brownback has always been called to fight for those of all faiths,” Roberts said. "His personal and professional commitment to fighting for religious freedom will make him an excellent Ambassador."

Roberts served alongside Brownback for 14 years in the Senate.

The man who won Brownback's seat when the latter ran for governor, Sen. Jerry Moran, was presiding over the Senate as consideration of his nomination began. He, too, praised Brownback's "commitment to promoting the freedom of all to practice the religion of their choice."

"The governor has been a dedicated public servant for many years and it was a privilege to support his nomination today,” Moran said.

Both Republican senators backed Brownback in both of Wednesday's votes, which broke along party lines. Sens. McCain (R-AZ) and Corker (R-TN) were absent from the proceedings and did not vote either time.

Fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will be elevated to governor in Kansas once Brownback submits his resignation. That could come as early as next week. Brownback told 13 NEWS once he was confirmed, he would set a date for his resignation.

The Kansas Experiment

Brownback made Kansas an economic laboratory for the nation by aggressively cutting taxes, arguing that they would provide “a shot of adrenaline to the heart” of the state’s economy.

But persistent budget problems followed, along with court mandates to boost spending on public schools. Kansas became an example even for conservatives of how not to do trickle-down economics. Voters turned on his legislative allies in 2016, and bipartisan majorities rolled back most of the cuts last year over Brownback’s veto.

The state Democratic Party said Brownback's new role would "end one of the most disastrous governorships in Kansas history."

"The Brownback legacy is one of hundred million dollar budget shortfalls, school shutdowns, an economy that lags behind neighboring states, crumbling roads and bridges, and credit downgrades," they continued.

Brownback also would leave a Kansas legacy of far tougher restrictions on abortion and fewer limits on gun owners than when he won the first of his two terms in 2010.

He also rejected expanding the Medicaid health program for the poor in line with former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law even as several other Republican governors went ahead.

Brownback was an early advocate of U.S. action to stop genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, and visited Congo and Rwanda to decry humanitarian crises and call for better coordination in foreign aid programs.

The long nomination

President Donald Trump’s selection of Brownback for the State Department post had come under fire from Senate Democrats and LGBT rights groups. During his confirmation hearing last year, Brownback declined to unequivocally declare there is no situation that would allow a country to cite religious freedom as the basis for criminally prosecuting LGBT people.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Wednesday that he was concerned Brownback would focus solely on protecting Christian minorities.

“I firmly believe that anyone seeking to represent the United States of America must actively champion the right of all people to worship freely and without fear,” Menendez said.

The advocacy group GLAAD said in a statement that Brownback’s “distortion of ‘religious freedom’ threatens LGBTQ people both at home and abroad.”

Trump announced he’d picked Brownback for the religious freedom post in July, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held his confirmation hearing in early October. But the Senate left town for the year without acting on his nomination. The White House resubmitted the nomination earlier this month.