This summer, President Donald Trump announced his nomination of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to be Ambassador-at-large for International Religous Freedom. The administration noted:
Mr. Brownback has been Governor of Kansas since 2011. Previously, he served as a U.S. Senator (1996-2011) and a U.S. Representative in the House of Representatives (1995-1996) from Kansas. While a member of the Senate, he worked actively on the issue of religious freedom in multiple countries and was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Brownback’s nomination October 4.
There has been a fair amount of commentary on Brownback in this role, ranging from skeptical to favorable to effusive. I would like to underscore three points.
- This is a political appointment. Brownback is the most overly political figure to hold the post, and the only career politician. This carries benefits and drawbacks. Brownback’s national profile elevates the prominence of the post, which is a good thing. But his ideological and overtly partisan career give many observers (Democrats) pause. Known as a culture warrior and doctrinaire economic conservative, some people simply cannot conceive that Brownback could possibly do a good job. This worry is overstated. IRF issues are among the most bipartisan in politics. Brownback has a mandate to promote international religious freedom, not to criminalize abortion or push supply-side economics.
- While I might have preferred a different nominee and I certainly would’ve liked to see this post filled immediately after the inauguration, I think Brownback is a solid pick — and very likely the best we could’ve hoped for from President Trump. Trump and Secretary of Stare Rex Tillerson have shown little interest in continuing the previous government’s robust engagement with religion as a consequential factor in world affairs. He is also though to place a high premium on personal loyalty. To be frank, there are several garbage candidates who sources tell me lobbied for this job. There are also political hacks Trump could’ve rewarded with a plum diplomaic appointment. Brownback is easily better than all of them.
- Brownback is an honorable man and knows this subject. Not everyone Obama nominated to this position did a stellar job. Yet the last Ambassador-at-large, Rabbi David Saperstein, received praise and support from Republicans and conservatives for his excellent leadership and exemplary stewardship of this unique and viral post. On a matter as essential to values, security, and prosperity as freedom of conscience, we put party loyalty aside for the greater good.
I may not vote for Sam Brownback or agree with some of his domestic policy preferences. But I thank the president for nominating a serious person — not a given for political appointments, perhaps especially in this administration. I send Mr. Brownback my best wishes and urge skeptics to give him the benefit of the doubt.