Government & Politics

Pence jokes about his two tie-breaking votes as Brownback is sworn in as ambassador

No longer the governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback on Thursday was sworn in as President Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
No longer the governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback on Thursday was sworn in as President Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. AP

Vice President Mike Pence swore in former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom in a ceremony Thursday in Washington, D.C.

Pence drew laughter when he said it was a “particular honor for me to cast not one but two tie-breaking votes to see Sam Brownback confirmed by the United State Senate. Two!”

Pence had to rush to Capitol Hill last week to cast the dramatic votes when Brownback’s confirmation deadlocked in a 49-49 party-line vote. Not one of Brownback’s former Democratic colleagues voted to confirm him, citing concerns about Brownback’s record on abortion and gay rights.

Pence spoke glowingly Thursday of his old friend Brownback, whom Trump nominated to the ambassadorship in July.

“For more than 30 years, Sam Brownback has been answering the call of public service,” Pence said. “He answered the call first to serve his home state of Kansas, representing the Sunflower State as a congressman.”

He’d go on the serve as a member of the U.S. Senate before becoming the 46th governor of Kansas.

“Every step of the way,” Pence said, “as those of you gathered in this room know as well as I do, Sam Brownback’s life has been defined by conviction and courage.”

Pence said he’d had the privilege to call Brownback a friend and colleague for more than a decade when he served in Congress and as governor of Indiana.

“He was an invaluable counselor to me as I served the Hoosier state,” the vice president said. “In all the years I’ve known him I’ve never ceased to be encouraged or inspired by his example, his faith, his unwavering belief in the goodness of the American people and his dedication and commitment to fight for what’s right. It’s all those qualities I know that made this decision an easy one for President Donald Trump.”

Trump has “chosen a man who has dedicated his life to advancing the principles of freedom at home and abroad, particularly religious freedom,” Pence said.

Promoting religious freedom is a priority for the administration, Pence said.

“We are confident you will do it with the same grace, he same determination, the same conviction that has characterized your three decades of public service,” he said said.

After Pence’s remarks, Brownback raised his right hand and solemnly swore to defend the Constitution. Then Pence introduced Brownback as ambassador.

Brownback thanked Trump “for his tenacity and his willingness to fight for a topic like this. It’s a tough one, and he does it. And as a sidebar I thought that state of the Union message was awesome, that was great.”

He also thanked “the hand of providence for putting me here — who would have thought that?”

“Unfortunately never before has there been more religious persecution than there is in the world today. I am sad to say that,” Brownback said. “Yet this is a foundational human right: religious freedom and its establishment is foundational for a nation to prosper and move forward in freedom. ... And we as a nation, we believe in it and we will fight for it.”

Religious freedom produces less terrorism and more peace, Brownback said. “So if you want security,” he said, “promote religious freedom.”

He added that he was honored and humbled to fight for those who are voiceless around the world.

“As a son of the prairie I humbly accept this high role for our nation,” Brownback said. “May God bless.”

Brownback was joined at the ceremony by his wife, Mary, three of their children and their newest grandchild.

Other attendees included former Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who used to work for Brownback in Congress.