Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday that he remains hopeful that he'll be confirmed for a diplomatic post in the Trump administration before the start of the 2018 legislative session, but he won't step down as governor unless and until that happens.
"My hope is they will get a vote up yet sometime this year, but we'll see what they're able to do," he said.
Brownback spoke with reporters Wednesday during an impromptu question-and-answer session following the ceremonial lighting of the Statehouse Christmas tree.
President Donald Trump has nominated Brownback to be the next U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, a post within the State Department that Brownback helped create by co-sponsoring legislation when he served in the U.S. Senate.
But the Senate has been slow to take up his confirmation. His nomination passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October on a straight 11-10 party line vote, with Democrats objecting over Brownback's record on LGBT rights.
Meanwhile, the Senate itself has been bogged down in debates over major policy issues such as efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and last week's close vote on a federal tax reform bill.
"Last week was the big tax vote in the Senate, so that was really occupying everyone's time," he said. "Hopefully it's going to be moving forward here soon."
The Senate is currently closely divided between 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents who typically vote with the Democrats. Because of that, Brownback said he is not assuming that his confirmation is assured.
"You can't ever say that when it's my former body involved, but it looks good," he said. "It's just been a really difficult season for cooperation in Washington."
The delay in his confirmation vote has created an awkward situation in which Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who expects to inherit the governor's job at any time, has been taking on more and more official duties, including naming cabinet secretaries and crafting next year's budget proposal for the Legislature, while Brownback continues to perform ceremonial functions such as lighting the Statehouse Christmas tree.
Last week, Brownback traveled to Washington to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as other GOP leaders, in hopes of moving his nomination along, a meeting which he said went well.
"I've worked with Mitch over the years," he said. "I was just saying, 'Look, it's a difficult environment to get things through. Now this has been obvious,' and he said, 'Look, I'm supportive, I want to do everything we can. It's just taking a lot of time.'"
But Brownback pushed aside suggestions that the state is now operating under a virtual co-governorship, insisting that the state has only "one governor at a time."
"We're really trying to do this like a relay race where you've got continued momentum moving forward, and that's what seems complicated to people," he said. "If we weren't in this proximity to a legislative session, I don't know that you'd need to do it quite the same way."