The almost ambassador: The Gray Lady slams Brownback for not leaving his Kansas job

Some of you may remember how, in late July, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was appointed to a U.S. State Department post that champions religious freedom.

Five months later, he’s still in Kansas.

On Monday, the White House renominated him for the post after Democrats refused to allow his -– and other failed nominations -– to roll over into the New Year. The White House’s action also gave politicians a wake-up call that this is an issue the Trump administration cares about.

Weirdly, a New York Times story blamed the governor for the impasse.

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas was giving a tender goodbye.
Speaking to a roomful of fellow Republicans over lunch at the Wichita Pachyderm Club last month, he mused about his next act, a post in the Trump administration as ambassador at large for international religious freedom, which was announced in July.
“As I pass from the stage here in Kansas, I leave with a warm thought and good feelings of all the good-hearted people in this wonderful state of Kansas,” said a smiling Mr. Brownback, whose seven years at the helm have been punctuated by a firm turn to the right and a revolt from some in his own party.

The governor had a replacement: Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, a plastic surgeon.

It has been nearly six months since Mr. Brownback, 61, announced that he would be leaving for a new job during his second term as governor. The holdup appears to be in Washington: A Senate committee held a hearing on his nomination and narrowly endorsed him in October, but he did not receive a vote in the full Senate.
A new year has brought new complications. Though Mr. Brownback has been renominated to the post, a relatively low-profile appointment, he will still have to be confirmed by the Senate. 

The story goes on to talk about how awkward things are in Kansas because Brownback is like the perennial guest who won’t leave. It mentions a Kansas City Star editorial that tells Brownback he should resign for the good of the state, even though it doesn’t say how the governor is supposed to pay his bills during the interim.

(Do read that editorial, as it tells Brownback, who converted to Catholicism in 2002, that he should emulate former Pope Benedict, who resigned his post in mid-term to let a younger, healthier successor lead the church. It also blasts Brownback for rescinding an executive order –- placed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius -– prohibiting discrimination against LGBT employees. Brownback argued that it was the job of the state legislature, not the governor, to pass anti-discrimination laws).

The Times piece didn’t mention why Brownback’s hands are tied nor how some religious groups are tearing their collective hair over the delay. This piece at shed some light.

Catholic leaders and human rights activists are blasting Democrats for delaying the confirmation of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to a State Department post aimed at protecting the freedom of people around the world to practice the religion of their choice. ...
Brownback's leadership is especially important right now, Catholic leaders and human rights activists argue. They say an urgent push is needed within the Trump administration to ensure a new State Department policy aimed at saving Christians, Yazidis, and other minority religious groups from extinction in Iraq is carried out.
"Senate Democrats are purposefully delaying confirmation of Gov. Sam Brownback," Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, a legal adviser to the Catholic Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for public policies that reflect Catholic values, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Petty politicking has no place where fundamental human rights are at stake. It is time for the Senate to do its job and confirm the eminently qualified Brownback."

The part about Catholic leaders being miffed is an interesting side story.

What is the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the hold-up? And it’s below the belt for the Times and Star to criticize Brownback for not pulling up stakes and moving inside the Beltway when his job’s not been approved. Seriously, folks, would you pack up and move across the country on the hope that a job might come through? You know you wouldn’t.

Well, neither should Brownback, especially with Trump’s low ratings. The president has enough enemies out there who might like to sit on the ambassadorship position in exchange for something else or let Brownback dangle over the fire for expressing views they disagree with, primarily on moral, social and religious-liberty issues.

The Times reporter made it sound like it was Brownback digging in his heels. She came up with some creative interviews:

Some Kansans said that it was not entirely clear who was truly in charge of the state, and for how long.
“From day to day, no, we don’t know,” said Jay Armstrong, a carpenter, as he picked up a hot dog at a gas station in Topeka on Monday morning. “Are we going to wait until we vote for a new governor? Or are we going to be governor-less?”

So, after covering Brownback’s speech, the reporter stopped to get gas for her rental car and interviewed a carpenter standing in line at the cash register? That’s a nice touch.

For the sake of the religion beat, I’m hoping Brownback gets his confirmation soon. There’s a ton of religious crises (the Rohingya Muslims being one) that cry out for a religious freedom ambassador who has the backing of the U.S. government.

Also, according to the Star, the ambassador’s office will gain a dozen more staffers (in addition to the current 25), plus a $7.7 million budget; one of the few places in the State Department to grow after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reorganized the department last summer.

Obviously things are beyond awkward for Brownback, who's unable to leave town after all the good-bye parties. But if you think things are weird in Kansas, imagine how much worse they'd be for him cooling his heels in a rented place in the District  -- forever, if some vengeful Democrats have their way or the Republicans can't get their act together -- waiting for the job that never comes? 

There's a lot of good stories out there -- such as what all those employees in the ambassador's office at State are doing with their time if the boss isn't there -- for reporters to look into. Instead of sniping at Brownback, why not cover the motives of those who are hamstringing him and the people he will represent?

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