The U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Gov. Sam Brownback to a diplomatic post to promote religious freedom, on Wednesday, with GOP leaders needing the help of Vice President Mike Pence to break a deadlock over the nomination.
Brownback was confirmed to be ambassador at large for international religious freedom, on a 50-49 margin, with all Democrats united against him and two Republicans absent. Pence cast the tie-breaking vote for Brownback in his role as President of the Senate.
The vote highlighted how polarizing a figure Brownback has become during what has, at time, been a tumultuous tenure as governor. It also underscored how narrow the Senate Republican majority is, and it illustrated the implications of the razor-thin margin for the Republican agenda.
Brownback had faced opposition from LGBT groups over a decision he made as Kansas governor to scuttle an executive order that barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Events on the Senate floor took a dramatic turn Wednesday afternoon when the Senate reached a 49-49 stalemate during a procedural vote to end debate on Brownback’s nomination and move toward a final roll call.
With Republicans missing both Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who is battling brain cancer, and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who was at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Vice President Pence was not on site at the time, and he quickly traveled to the Capitol to cast the tie-breaking vote.
Wednesday’s votes marked the seventh and eighth times Pence has had to break a tie in the Senate since the start of the Trump presidency just over a year ago. By comparison, Vice President Joe Biden cast no tie-breaking votes in the Senate during the eight years of the Obama presidency. During George W. Bush’s presidency, Vice President Richard B. Cheney cast eight tie-breaking votes.
The time table for Brownback’s departure was not clear at the time of this writing. When he does resign, Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer will finish out his term. Brownback would have termed out after this year. A new governor will be elected in November this year from among an already crowded field of candidates.