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Grenell confirmed as ambassador to Germany

by Lisa Keen

New Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell
New Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell  

Following some stingingly harsh assessments of the nominee, the Senate Thursday (April 26) confirmed the nomination of Richard Grenell, a gay Republican activist from California, to be the U.S. ambassador to Germany. The vote was 56-42.

Grenell's nomination last September marked the first time President Donald Trump has appointed an openly gay person to a position in his administration. Grenell, 51, received one fewer vote than former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump's controversial nominee to become secretary of state, who was also confirmed. (Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, did not participate in either vote; Senator Angus King, I-Maine, voted against Grenell; Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, was listed as "not voting.")

The vote came on the eve of a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Prior to the vote on Grenell, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) complained about the delays in confirming Trump's nominees, blaming it on "sheer partisanship." Senate procedures allow any one senator to hold up confirmation of a nominee. The Hill newspaper referred to the delays of various nominees as "obstruction on steroids," but it has been a tactic used just as enthusiastically by Republicans with a Democratic president.

The first to speak about Grenell's nomination Thursday on the Senate floor was Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), with a stinging rebuke.

"It would have been my hope and desire that for such an important ally as Germany, the president would have put forth a serious, credible, experienced diplomat who could strengthen our relationship with Germany," said Menendez. "Instead, President Trump nominated Mr. Grenell."

Menendez then read some old posts Grenell put up on Twitter. They included such things as criticizing then-first lady Michelle Obama for "sweating on the East Room's carpet," taunting lesbian MSNBC political talk host Rachel Maddow to "put on a necklace," and wondering whether former Speaker Newt Gingrich's wife Callista has hair that "snaps on."

"Mr. Grenell's derogatory comments about women are simply unacceptable for anyone to make in public, let alone a diplomat," said Menendez.

Speaking on behalf of Grenell's nomination, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Grenell had a "deep background in diplomacy and strategic communications." The rest of his very brief comments noted Grenell graduated from Harvard and was for eight years spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

Log Cabin Republican national President Gregory Angelo called Grenell's confirmation "historic."

He has now officially become the highest-ranking openly gay official ever in a Republican administration," said Angelo.

"Despite the interminable delays of Democrats hell-bent on standing on the wrong side of history," said Angelo, "today the United States Senate confirmed a gay nominee not 'in spite of' Republicans or 'with Republican support,' but because of Republican support.

"Log Cabin Republicans will not forget the votes of the Democratic senators who stood in opposition to Grenell's confirmation, nor the roaring silence from LGBT advocacy organizations, who did nothing to achieve this tremendous milestone in LGBT history," added Angelo.

No Republicans voted against Grenell, but five Democrats voted for him: Senators Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Jon Tester of Montana.

Both of California's Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, voted against Grenell.

Only 10 openly gay people have been confirmed to serve as ambassadors; all have been men. Obama appointed seven openly gay men for ambassadorial posts - to Spain, Denmark, New Zealand, the Dominican Republican, Australia, Vietnam, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. President Bill Clinton was the first president to nominate an openly gay person to be an ambassador: San Franciscan James C. Hormel to Luxembourg. Bush was the first Republican president to name an openly gay ambassador: Michael Guest to Romania.

Grenell's post, Germany, represents the country with the largest population among the 10: 82 million.

The White House news release announcing Grenell's nomination last September did not mention he is gay and that he was a Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention. It described him as a "foreign policy writer and commentator" and said he "founded the international consulting firm Capitol Media Partners in 2010."

The White House did not issue any statement concerning Grenell's confirmation.

Grenell was a frequent political commentator for Fox News. He is also a member of the national gay Republican group, Log Cabin Republicans. And, like Trump, he has been very active in posting his views on Twitter. In 2014, Time magazine called him a "Twitter provocateur, seemingly always on the hunt for what he sees as liberal media bias or Democrats' weak-kneed foreign policy."

Grenell was a foreign policy adviser in 2012 to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But he resigned the position after only two weeks, saying his ability to "speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign." He added that Romney's "clear message to me [was] that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team."

In 2013, Grenell shared on his Twitter feed that he was undergoing chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but in an August 2017 post, he shared that he is "cancer free." Grenell and his partner, Matthew Lashey, created a free app to help people being treated for cancer to track the side effects of their medications to help doctors make better-informed judgments in adjusting treatment.

In 2008, the Advocate magazine reported that Grenell, while at the U.N., sought to have Lashey listed in the U.N. directory that lists diplomatic personnel and their spouses. Grenell said that he and Lashey considered themselves married even though, at the time, it was not possible for them to obtain a marriage license in New York. A U.S. State Department official said the Defense of Marriage Act precluded the U.S. from submitting Lashey's name for inclusion.

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