Senate Dems Block Grenell Appointment

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday March 28, 2018
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Richard Grenell, left, who is nominated to be ambassador to Germany, is President Donald Trump's most prominent openly gay appointee.
Richard Grenell, left, who is nominated to be ambassador to Germany, is President Donald Trump's most prominent openly gay appointee.

Republican efforts to approve President Donald Trump's gay ambassador to Germany suffered yet another setback last week when Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley blocked the move.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) had sought a March 22 vote on Richard Grenell's ambassadorship. But under Senate rules, any member can hold up a vote and that's what Merkley (Oregon) did.

Grenell, 51, was nominated by Trump last September and his confirmation process has dragged on since then.

Unidentified Democrats who followed Merkley's lead cited their concerns about Grenell's tweets against women and the press.

Merkley is an advocate for LGBT rights. His record supporting the LGBT community prompted Republicans to accuse him of supporting only Democratic LGBTs, not Republican ones.

But Merkley defended himself, telling the Washington Blade, "I cannot in good faith support a nominee who has a lengthy track record of tweets attacking both prominent Democratic and prominent Republican women.

"Since his nomination, these tweets have continued, showing a complete disregard for the Senate confirmation process and disregard for the seriousness of the position to which he is nominated," he added.

Merkley also raised concern about Grenell's open disregard about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

"Mr. Grenell has been dismissive of the threat Russia poses to U.S. democracy, and we certainly need to have U.S. ambassadors who can work with our European allies and partners now more than ever to reinforce and strengthen the institutions we have built, to protect the rule of law and democracy, and to defend our Western democracies against Russian interference," Merkley told the newspaper.

Grenell is a foreign policy expert. He served in various diplomatic roles during George W. Bush's administration. He served at the United Nations under four different ambassadors, including incoming national security adviser John Bolton. He's also a commentator on Fox News and a public communications adviser.

Last week, Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT Republican organization, blasted the delay in confirming Grenell. In an email, the organization urged members to put pressure on Merkley and to thank McConnell for his effort to call for a vote.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Grenell's nomination at the end of October 2017, reported the New York Times. The newspaper also noted that it appeared Grenell had enough support to clear the full Senate.

Key German leaders reportedly have also put pressure on the U.S. to go forward with the confirmation process.

In February, gay German Consul General of the Pacific Northwest Hans-Ulrich Suedbeck, who is stationed in San Francisco, told the Bay Area Reporter, "You can't just leave it empty. It would be in your and our interest to have an American ambassador in Berlin very soon."

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, was critical of the Democrats, commenting to the Blade, "I'd say I'm surprised, but the fact is I'm no longer taken aback by the depths to which Democrats descend in their attempt to smear a highly qualified openly gay Republican."

However, Democrats who opposed Grenell's confirmation are not the only cause of the delay. McConnell failed to file cloture on the nomination after Merkley objected, according to media reports. This political maneuver would have allowed the confirmation process to proceed through a 30-hour debate leading up to a vote. But that would have taken up a good part of the Senate's work week if McConnell had pursued it.

Joe Borelli, a Republican commentator and the minority whip of the New York City Council, noted in an op-ed published by the Hill that the Republican Party has gotten behind Trump's nomination of Grenell to be the ambassador to Germany because the party is changing.

"The obstruction of his nomination has seemingly united all levels of the party in cheering for an eminently qualified gay nominee," wrote Borelli.

Stuart Milk, the gay nephew of the gay slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and co-founder and president of the Harvey Milk Foundation, told the Times he supports Grenell's nomination.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician elected in San Francisco and California when he won a seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1977. He and then-mayor George Moscone were assassinated by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White in November 1978.

Stuart Milk called opponents' position "misguided," telling the Times that he believed that Grenell's confirmation would "send an important message" about LGBTs in the Trump administration.

If Grenell's nomination didn't proceed "it would leave a huge void," he said.

Milk explained to the B.A.R. in a text interview while in flight to Japan Tuesday that Grenell "has been a staunch supporter of marriage equality and global LGBT rights."

"Having Ric at the diplomatic table, even if that table is more homophobic, makes it that much harder for our community to be on their menu," wrote Milk.

He supports Grenell's confirmation as U.S. ambassador to Germany even as he opposes much of the Trump administration's actions, stating they have "been life-negating for our community and other minorities."

He also supports the reappointment of Chai Feldblum, a lesbian whose term on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ends in July, and maintained that opposition to both are "misguided."

"My uncle taught us about the power of visibility," wrote Milk. "Having an openly LGBT ambassador to a G-7 nation, even in the dark Trump era, sends hope to so many who work in areas of our globe that are in the hands of even darker regimes."

Cleve Jones, a longtime gay rights activist who worked alongside Harvey Milk, called Stuart Milk's move "bullshit." He was especially appalled at Stuart Milk throwing his support to Grenell on the very day Trump issued new limits on transgender people serving openly in the military.

"He has chosen to play footsies with fascists," Jones told the B.A.R., believing that Stuart Milk is supporting Grenell simply because he's gay. "It's very poor judgment. I'm extremely disappointed. This is inexcusable."

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or [email protected].