Pence Vote Needed, Twice, to Push Brownback Nomination Along

Absences make it close for former senator and current Kansas governor

Gov. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., is President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senatorial courtesy only extends so far these days. Case in point? Former Sen. Sam Brownback, who is Kansas’ Republican governor and has been nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, needed Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie just to cut off debate on his nomination.

Even by the current Senate’s lower threshold to cut off debate on nominations, down from three-fifths of those present to just a majority, Brownback just squeaked by, 49-49, with Pence arriving at the Capitol to break the tie. A few hours later, Pence broke another 49-49 vote to confirm Brownback. 

Even in such a narrowly divided Senate, with 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, the GOP can muscle through nominations by just keeping their own caucus in line. Any kind of absence, then, can make it tough to get even that. 

Republicans have been down a man for the last month, with John McCain battling cancer back in his home state of Arizona, which narrows that margin further. That puts it at 50-49 most recent days. Bob Corker of Tennessee, though, was also absent today, shrinking the vote margin one more down. 

According to a Corker spokesman, the senator is in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum in his capacity as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and Senate leaders have been aware of his itinerary for some time. The aide added that Corker “is glad he has been confirmed” and noted that Corker ushered the nomination through his committee. 

Brownback was first elected to the House in 1994 and elected to the Senate in 1996 in a special election to replace Bob Dole, who resigned to run unsuccessfully for president that year. He was elected governor of Kansas in 2010. He has been among the nation’s least popular governors, with approval ratings sometimes dipping into the teens. A Morning Consult survey in October pegged his approval rating at 24 percent and disapproval rating at 66 percent. 

Ed Pesce contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.