Gov. Sam Brownback will continue to wait for confirmation for a post in the Trump administration after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that he doesn’t know when a vote will take place.
Brownback’s nomination as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom is nearly half a year old, but negotiations between Senate Republicans and Democrats are set to push a vote into January. It’s unclear who will be governor when the Kansas Legislature convenes on Jan. 8.
As of Thursday afternoon, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, could not predict how the standoff over the Brownback nomination would resolve itself.
“I’d love to get him cleared,” McConnell told McClatchy, “but I simply do not know the answer.”
Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had spoken with Democrats about trying to arrange a vote in January. The committee narrowly advanced Brownback’s nomination in October.
“They want a recorded vote and we’re trying to do it in the least painful way possible in early January,” Corker said.
President Donald Trump nominated Brownback in July, but questions from Democrats over his record on gay rights have slowed his confirmation process.
“The hope is to get him out of here in January,” Corker said. “And I think generally they’re fine with just going ahead and setting a vote.”
In Topeka, a spokeswoman for Brownback didn’t immediately respond to questions.
Members of Congress on Thursday either didn’t appear certain why Brownback’s nomination was taking so long or blamed gridlock.
Rep. Roger Marshall, a freshman Republican from western Kansas, said he was shocked it’s taken the Senate this long to confirm Brownback.
“Obviously he would be an excellent person to do the job that he’s been asked to do,” Marshall said. “He’s kind of created a lame duck situation back home in Kansas so we need to get it done. I think it’s just one more example unfortunately of the Senate just kind of jamming things and slowing the process down.”
Marshall said other appointments had been held up as well, which he called a “huge problem.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, said wasn’t sure why the nomination was being held up. “He’s a great guy,” Hatch said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, said nominations as a whole have proceeded very slowly through the Senate because “we are facing across the board Democratic filibusters and delays.”
“The ambassador for religious (freedom) is an important position and it needs to be filled and my hope is that Gov. Brownback will be confirmed sooner rather than later,” Cruz said.
Brownback said a couple of things during his hearing that gave some Democratic senators pause, Corker said. For that reason, Democrats want a recorded vote, he said.
Sen. Tim Kaine, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, had grilled Brownback at his hearing over his 2015 repeal of an executive order that prohibited discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual and transgender state employees that was put in place under former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
For his part, Brownback has given little suggestion publicly that he is frustrated by the pace of his confirmation. He has handed off budget preparations to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, and allowed Colyer to name a cabinet secretary.
He remains deeply unpopular in Kansas, with polls consistently placing him among the least popular governors in the country. But Brownback has defended his policies, including income tax cuts that the Legislature rolled back earlier this year.
“You’ve got to let the emotion clear the air,” Brownback told the Associated Press this week during an interview reflecting on his time as governor. “You have to run the test of time to see if the ideas worked.”