Senate narrowly approves Brownback for religious freedom job

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -

The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday narrowly approved Sam Brownback’s bid to be U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, setting the stage for him to resign the governorship in Kansas after seven contentious years in office.

With two Republican senators absent, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Capitol Hill to cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm Brownback, a favorite of Christian conservatives for his views on same-sex marriage and abortion. The vote was along party lines, 50-49, underscoring the narrow margin Republicans hold. Pence’s vote also was needed earlier in the day to get Brownback’s nomination over a procedural hurdle.

Fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer will be elevated to governor in Kansas once Brownback submits his resignation. That could come as early as next week.

“I’m glad to have the vice president in my corner,” Brownback told reporters after a meeting with Kansas legislative leaders at the statehouse in Topeka. He added later, “I’m happy. It’s a critical job. I’m excited about being able to do it.”

Brownback served in the U.S. Senate before becoming governor in January 2011. He made Kansas an economic laboratory for the nation by aggressively cutting taxes, arguing that they would provide “a shot of adrenaline to the heart” of the state’s economy.

“Governor Brownback has long demonstrated his commitment to promoting the freedom of all to practice the religion of their choice. He will now be in a position to continue this important work as our Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom," Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said. "The governor has been a dedicated public servant for many years and it was a privilege to support his nomination today.”

But persistent budget problems followed, along with court mandates to boost spending on public schools. Kansas became an example even for conservatives of how not to do trickle-down economics. Voters turned on his legislative allies in 2016, and bipartisan majorities rolled back most of the cuts last year over Brownback’s veto.

President Donald Trump’s selection of Brownback for the State Department post had come under fire from Senate Democrats and LGBT rights groups. During his confirmation hearing last year, Brownback 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.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Wednesday that he was concerned Brownback would focus solely on protecting Christian minorities.

“I firmly believe that anyone seeking to represent the United States of America must actively champion the right of all people to worship freely and without fear,” Menendez said.

The advocacy group GLAAD said in a statement that Brownback’s “distortion of ‘religious freedom’ threatens LGBTQ people both at home and abroad.”


Previous story:

The U.S. Senate has taken a key step toward confirming Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's nomination for an ambassador's post.

After senators voted 49-49 Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie in Brownback's favor. The vote ended debate on Brownback's nomination by President Donald Trump to be U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

The action starts a 30-hour clock on holding a final vote, though it could come sooner.

Kansas governor counting on growth to cover extra school aid

Brownback sees rolled-back Kansas cuts still shaping debate

Trump first nominated Brownback for the ambassador's post in July but Democrats and LGBT groups opposed his appointment.

In 2015, Brownback rescinded an executive order from a previous Democratic governor banning discrimination in state hiring and employment against LGBT individuals.

Brownback would resign as governor if he is confirmed. Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer would be elevated to governor.
 

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