Brownback’s nomination for ambassador post not carried over, will return to White House

Samuel Brownback, governor of Kansas and a former U.S. senator, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the nominee to be the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

TOPEKA — Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s nomination for an ambassador’s post is in limbo after the U.S. Senate failed to vote on confirming him before finishing its business for year, lengthening an already awkward transition to a new governor.

David Popp, communications director for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in an email Friday that Brownback’s nomination was not a list of those to be carried into next year and would be returned to the White House. President Donald Trump nominated Brownback for U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom at the end of July.

Senate rules require an appointee who hasn’t received a confirmation vote by the end of the year to be nominated again, unless senators unanimously agree to carry the nomination into the next year. Brownback’s absence from the “status quo list” means at least one Democratic senator objected to carrying over the Republican governor’s nomination.

Brownback’s appointment faces opposition from Democrats and LGBT groups. In 2015, he rescinded an executive order banning discrimination in state hiring and employment against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals. Then-Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had issued the order in 2007, and Brownback, a social conservative, argued that the GOP-controlled Legislature should sign off on such a policy.

The governor’s office had no immediate comment. In an Associated Press interview Tuesday, Brownback said his nomination had taken “way too long, as have a number of nominations this year.”

“Democrats are just holding things up, and that’s been what’s happened much of this year on appointments,” Brownback said. “The votes are there for me to pass.”

With Republicans controlling the Senate, Trump has had success in getting judicial nominees confirmed, including 12 appellate judges, the most in a president’s first year in more than a century. The Senate approved dozens of appointments Wednesday, including a new U.S. attorney for Kansas. But Brownback was among more than 100 appointees whose nominations weren’t carried over.

Brownback’s departure would elevate fellow conservative Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to the governor’s office. The Legislature convenes its next annual session on Jan. 8, with the governor giving the State of the State address and delivering budget proposals that week.

Brownback and his aides initially had expected him to win confirmation in the fall. Brownback served in the U.S. Senate for 14 years before being elected governor in 2010, and the ambassadorship hasn’t had a high profile since its creation in the 1990s.

Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, both Republicans, expressed disappointment at the lack of a vote and pledged to work for Brownback’s confirmation early next year. Roberts said the vote has been delayed by Democrats “unnecessarily.” Moran called Brownback “a strong and consistent defender of religious freedom.”

The year had already been politically difficult for Brownback, who was term limited after narrowly winning re-election in 2014.

Brownback saw his popularity in his home state and his national reputation shrink amid persistent state budget problems that followed massive income tax cuts enacted at his urging in 2012 and 2013. The GOP-controlled Legislature rolled back most of the cuts earlier this year.

Colyer is running for a full, four-year term in 2018. Brownback already has allowed him to take the lead on drafting budget proposals and to pick replacements for two departing Cabinet secretaries — prompting widespread talk that Kansas has two governors. On Tuesday, Brownback described the transition as “like a relay race.”