Senate panel backs Trump nominee for religious freedom post
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel narrowly approved the nomination of Sam Brownback to be U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom despite complaints from LGBT rights groups over the Kansas governor’s views on same-sex marriage and gender identity.
On an 11-10 vote Thursday, the Foreign Relations Committee recommended that the full Senate consider President Donald Trump’s selection of Brownback for the State Department post. The committee also approved several other Trump nominees for ambassadorships. Among them was Richard Grenell to be U.S. envoy to Germany. Grenell would be the first openly LGBT ambassador for Trump if he’s confirmed.
Brownback thanked the committee in a tweet “for voting on my nomination favorably.”
LGBT rights groups have decried Brownback’s nomination because of his conservative views. During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Brownback defended his decision as Kansas governor to scrap an executive order that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Brownback in 2015 rescinded the order issued in August 2007 by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that banned discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals in hiring and employment agencies under the governor’s direct control. He said that Sebelius, a Democrat, had acted unilaterally and undercut the Kansas’ legislature.
Brownback is a favorite of Christian conservatives for his strong stances against abortion and same-sex marriage. He also 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.
He made Kansas an economic laboratory for the nation by aggressively cutting taxes.
Grenell’s nomination also squeaked by on an 11-10 vote. Grenell served as a spokesman for the United States at the United Nations under four U.S. ambassadors during former President George W. Bush’s administration. He later appeared as a foreign affairs commentator on Fox News Channel, an affiliation that Democrats pressed him on during his confirmation hearing.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Grenell had made derogatory comments about the personal appearances of Hillary Clinton; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and Callista Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“There are few professions that probably prepare you worse for being a diplomat than being a cable news commentator,” Murphy said.
Grenell attributed the remarks to failed attempts at humor and said he regretted making them.
The Berlin posting that Grenell is on track to fill is a high-profile job as Trump’s relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been closely watched during the president’s first year.
Other nominees approved by the Foreign Relations Committee on voice votes include: Kenneth Juster to be ambassador to India; former Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Jamie McCourt to be ambassador to France; and Eric Whitaker, a career Foreign Service officer, to be ambassador to Niger.
Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rplardner