White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lashed out Tuesday against Senate Democrats, accusing them of holding up the confirmation of the Trump administration’s most high-profile openly gay nominee.
In her opening remarks at the daily briefing, Sanders took Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to task for the lack of confirmation of Richard Grenell, whom President Trump nominated in September for the role of U.S. ambassador to Germany.
“He is waiting to represent America’s interest and be our country’s top voice in a G-7 country,” Sanders said. “In short, Sen. Schumer’s hyper-political delay of Mr. Grenell puts our national security and America’s interests in jeopardy. The Senate should move to confirm him immediately.”
Sanders’ criticism of Schumer for withholding the confirmation of Grenell was part of a general tirade against Senate Democrats for blocking the approval of Trump nominees, which she said amounted to “historic obstruction.”
According to Sanders, the Senate has confirmed the fewest nominees by the time in any of past four administrations and made 73 fewer confirmations than the next lowest administration.
“Half of President Trump’s nominees are still awaiting confirmation in the Senate,” Sanders said. “The obstruction is so out of control, even some Senate Democrats believe it is inappropriate.”
A Harvard-educated foreign policy expert, Grenell founded the international consulting firm Capitol Media Partners in 2010 and has served in various roles as a public communications adviser and a Fox News commentator. Under the George W. Bush administration, Grenell was the longest serving U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations and served four U.S. ambassadors.
For a period of less than two weeks, Grenell served during the 2012 presidential campaign as a foreign policy spokesperson for Republican nominee Mitt Romney, but resigned amid pressure from social conservatives over his sexual orientation. Grenell never had the opportunity to speak publicly in the role.
Grenell, who has described himself as a gay conservative Christian, has a same-sex partner, Matt Lashey. According to The Atlantic, the two have been together for 15 years and Lashey himself is a conservative Christian who graduated from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
The Grenell nomination is being held up purportedly over comments Grenell made years ago on Twitter about the appearance of women, including Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Callista Gingrich and Rachel Maddow. Although Grenell years ago apologized and deleted those tweets, they stand out in the context of the #MeToo movement in which women are coming forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.
One 2011 tweet directed at Maddow, a lesbian news anchor on MSNBC, said she “needs to take a breath and put on a necklace” and another compared her look to that of pop singer Justin Bieber. One tweet directed at Gingrich questioned whether she “snaps on” her hair. At around the same time, Grenell tweeted “Hillary is starting to look like Madeleine Albright.”
When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered the Grenell nomination, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) led Democrats to oppose advancing him to the Senate floor. The party-line committee vote took place in October, but months later the nomination has yet to come to a vote before the full Senate. (Sanders incorrectly said during the briefing Grenell was reported out “with bipartisan support.)
Hugh Hewitt, a conservative commentator, has suggested Democrats are actually blocking the confirmation of Grenell based on his sexual orientation.
“One hopes LGBTQ voters recall in November that the party that purports to champion their agenda has instead worked in cloaked concert to keep Grennell from this crucial post because it doesn’t like the optics of @realDonaldTrump appointing @RichardGrenell,” Hewitt tweeted this month. “Shameful on many levels.”
But the Senate has confirmed other gay Trump nominees who aren’t as high-profile. Two were confirmed unanimously in the Senate: James Abbott, who was confirmed to the Federal Labor Relations Authority; and David Glawe, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security.
It’s unclear who exactly is blocking the nomination from coming to a vote before the full Senate. Murphy has denied he’s now withholding unanimous consent and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office has vaguely asserted Democrats are holding up Grenell.
Schumer’s office didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on Sanders criticism against the New York Democrat.
McConnell could file cloture to force a vote on the nomination, but without unanimous consent to move forward, it would start a process eating up 30 hours of debate time on the floor before a vote would take place.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, told the Washington Blade last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference his organization has been active in pushing for Grenell’s confirmation with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
“The Senate is unlikely to move any nominee if doing so would the burn the 30 hours of debate that burns through the Senate calendar time,” Angelo said. “So, I’ve been seeking to get assurances from senators on both of the aisle that they would provide Ric with the benefit and the respect of vote by unanimous consent.”
Angelo said he isn’t sure why Democrats would hold up Grenell because he’s an openly gay nominee “for a key post in the Trump administration at a time when it’s especially important to have our interest in Europe represented.”
Last month, Log Cabin spearheaded a letter signed by 22 Republicans blaming Democrats for blocking Grenell’s confirmation. Among them is the George W. Bush administration’s former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
But Angelo said Log Cabin is starting to turn its attention to McConnell over the nomination to convince him to force a vote.
“I know that the votes are there to confirm Ric whether the Democratic support is there or not,” Angelo said. “For us, the work that we’re doing is involved with elevating his place on the calendar and the leader’s office right now has been somewhat murky on the level of priority there.”
McConnell’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment on why Senate leadership doesn’t force a vote on Grenell.