Written by Don Byrd

[UPDATE: 10/26: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Brownback on an 11-10 party-line vote, sending the nomination to the full Senate.]

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was given several opportunities but generally declined to wade into controversial domestic topics during his hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to become the next Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, succeeding Rabbi David Saperstein, who served in that role under President Obama. Brownback repeatedly emphasized that in his view the office should stay tightly focused on its bipartisan religious liberty mandate.

In questioning from Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), Brownback reassured:

I look forward to working with…everybody regardless of their ideas or views on how we can advance the agenda of religious freedom. There may be differences on other topics. There are differences that Ambassador Saperstein and I have on other topics. But the beauty of this topic has been that we tend to focus on what bipartisan things that we agree upon, and I pledge to you to do that in this role as Ambassador for Religious Freedom and to continue the work that Ambassador Saperstein has done in this as well.

And later in reponse to Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), he reiterated:

The beauty of what this job has been, I think, under the prior administration and this one, is that there are contentious issues that people don’t agree upon, and this position has tried to stay in its lane on religious freedom. And we could veer off into a lot of other debate points and lose the support of the Congress, and lose support around the world. But I think the key piece is to stay in the lane of religious freedom and those things that start to pull you out of it that you shouldn’t go there… [Religious liberty] is so critical and difficult enough as it is without trying to venture into the difficult abortion debate, or other debates domestically, and to focus this on international and the places that we agree upon…. This is an important position not to get into a number of these more difficult debate points that we are in in the United States and I pledge to you to stay there in this lane on a bipartisan basis.

You can watch video of the confirmation hearing here. You can read Brownback’s hearing testimony here.