Ambassador Brownback? As time runs short for Senate vote this year, he’s in limbo

Gov. Sam Brownback has been stuck in Kansas as he waits for a Senate vote on his nomination to be an ambassador in Washington for President Donald Trump.
Gov. Sam Brownback has been stuck in Kansas as he waits for a Senate vote on his nomination to be an ambassador in Washington for President Donald Trump.

Time is running out for Gov. Sam Brownback.

The Kansas Republican is not yet scheduled for a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate this week, and with just a few days left before lawmakers leave town until January, it isn’t clear whether he’ll get to start his new job in the Trump administration any time soon.

That scenario would leave Brownback as governor of Kansas at the start of a contentious election-year session of the state legislature. He might have to deliver the state of the state address close to six months after President Donald Trump picked him to be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

For now, Brownback’s on the sidelines during a crowded schedule on Capitol Hill with pressure building on lawmakers to pass major tax legislation and keep the government from shutting down.

His confirmation might not happen in this final flurry of work in the Senate, and is currently not on the schedule, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.

But that could change any minute in the ebb and flow of Capitol Hill.

“I don’t have any new information,” Brownback told reporters this week when asked whether he had any concerns about not being approved this year.

Brownback has faced scrutiny and resistance from Senate Democrats over his record on gay rights, and he even visited Capitol Hill recently about his stalled nomination.

His political limbo comes as Congress tries to overhaul the federal tax code in an effort critics have compared to Brownback’s own Kansas tax-cut model. The governor’s “experiment” ended when the GOP-dominated Legislature rolled back his cuts earlier this year.

“He isn’t having a good year,” said Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University. “There’s no question. He hasn’t been having a good couple of years.”

According to a U.S. Senate rule, if Brownback isn’t confirmed or rejected by the end of the current session, the president would have to renominate him. If Democrats and Republicans don’t agree unanimously to waive the rule, Brownback’s confirmation process would have to start over from scratch, further delaying his resignation from the Kansas governorship.

Neither McConnell’s office nor Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s offices would say if there is a deal to waive the rule.

“The office is aware of the rules,” Brownback spokeswoman Rachel Whitten said in an email. “Governor Brownback continues to anticipate confirmation by the full Senate as recommended by the Foreign Relations Committee.”

Brownback’s situation in Kansas has led to an increasingly awkward arrangement as lawmakers prepare to start the 2018 legislative session.

Brownback told reporters before Thanksgiving that Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer was taking the lead in preparing the governor’s budget proposal. Colyer then announced a Cabinet appointment.

“I think the U.S. Senate is going to continue to work very hard,” Colyer said in a recent phone interview. “... There are dozens of nominations to clear. And I’m convinced they should do their work and do it soon.”

As the two men, and their respective staffs, wait for the change of power, Brownback has had to play defense.

At a Christmas tree lighting earlier this month Brownback continued to tackle questions about sharing power with Colyer.

“I’m the governor,” he said. “I’m making the decisions.”

One prominent Kansas Republican tried to make light of the situation on Tuesday as the governor signed proclamations.

“Well, governor, are you giving the state of the state next year?” Attorney General Derek Schmidt asked. “We aren’t sure yet.”

Awkward laughter broke out in the crowded room.

“The governor will give the state of the state,” Brownback said.

And the laughter continued.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw