Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback likely won’t be confirmed as the nation’s religious freedom ambassador in 2017.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now says he doesn’t know when Brownback’s nomination will come to a vote. And Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is pointing to January as a possibility. For the time being, Brownback remains the Kansas governor.
Kansans can be forgiven for being a bit impatient. President Donald Trump nominated Brownback to be the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in July. You’d think the Senate could have made up its mind, one way or another, by now. You’d be wrong.
We’ve said Democrats should not delay the nomination. Kansans deserve to know who will serve as governor next year.
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But whether the Senate disdains this particular ambassadorship or simply dislikes Brownback, lawmakers’ inaction is cause for concern.
The ambassador position was created in 1998 and strengthened in 2016. “The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States,” the statute says.
“The primary responsibility of the ambassador-at-large,” it says, “shall be to advance the right to freedom of religion abroad, to denounce the violation of that right, and to recommend appropriate responses by the United States Government when this right is violated.”
Yet the job has now been left unfilled for most of the year. And it could get worse: Brownback’s nomination may need to be submitted again next year, making the confirmation process even more difficult.
The delay is worrisome. The U.S. just announced its intention to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, an action that pleases some Americans and troubles others. But there can be no doubt that religion and faith are important considerations in contemporary statecraft.
The religious freedom ambassador — Brownback, or someone else — should be in office to help address those issues. Yet the post sits vacant.
As is almost always the case in Washington, politics is playing a part in the delay. Some believe Republicans wanted to avoid a debate on a controversial nominee while a tax reform was on the table. Now, that excuse is gone.
Of course, Brownback alone cannot solve the problems of religious persecution. But the vacant position sends a message abroad: America doesn’t really mean it when it argues for religious freedom.
How could it, if the ambassador’s job is just a political bargaining chip?
The Senate should take up the nomination as quickly as possible or consider abolishing the job. Kansas deserves that courtesy, as does the country.