When the Trump administration tapped Randy Evans in September to be ambassador to Luxembourg, it marked a career capstone for the longtime Atlanta attorney.
But nearly eight months later, Evans’ nomination is languishing in the U.S. Senate, caught in a broader partisan impasse over White House nominees and a narrower one related to a decade-old voter identification law in Georgia.
Now the well-connected GOP official, who has counted Gov. Nathan Deal and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich as clients, is the only Senate-vetted ambassadorial nominee whom lawmakers have yet to confirm.
Several Senate Democrats have blocked the chamber from quickly confirming Evans in recent months, according to Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.
The Democrats’ objections aren’t preventing the Senate from confirming Evans, but they do require GOP leaders to set aside a full 30 hours of debate time on the floor in order to tee up a final vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has used the chamber’s limited floor time to instead confirm other appointees in recent weeks, including Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, Trump’s pick to be ambassador to Germany and a slew of conservative judges.
Evans’ Republican allies from Georgia have been agitating for a confirmation vote for months. They say they and the White House are now focused on securing Evans’ seat at the table in Luxembourg City before the August recess.
“It’s been difficult to get a vote for him,” Isakson said. “I’m still trying.”
Evans and the White House declined to comment.
Under the Senate’s byzantine thicket of rules and customs, members don’t have to publicly disclose whether they have a hold on a nominee. And no senator has publicly acknowledged he or she is behind the slowdown of Evans’ nomination.
Regardless, the longtime Republican National Committee member had no shortage of foes on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where all 10 of the panel’s Democrats voted in December to reject his nomination. Several cited Evans’ tenure on Georgia’s State Election Board when it sought to implement a contentious voter ID law in the mid-2000s.
Evans was a proponent of the statute, which required voters to show one of six forms of government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot, even after lawsuits were filed claiming the requirement posed an unnecessary burden on the right to vote and state and federal courts temporarily halted its enforcement.
“Photo ID voting practices are of pressing concern to many of us, particularly if part of the role of an ambassador is to represent the proper functioning of democracy,” U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said late last year.
Democrats’ opposition still wasn’t enough to stall Evans’ nomination. All 11 of the panel’s Republican members, including Isakson, voted to advance it to the Senate floor.
That’s where the bottleneck has been.
The tax overhaul, immigration debate and government spending bills dominated the Senate’s agenda this winter, leaving limited time to advance Trump administration nominees. And instead of agreeing to cut short debate, Democrats have forced their GOP colleagues to use the full 30 hours of floor time for many executive branch picks, limiting the number of nominees the Senate has been able to confirm.
Some Democrats see the nomination slowdown as payback after the Senate GOP blocked confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland in 2016. Republicans grumble that Democrats are systematically obstructing Trump’s nominees and have considered changing the rules to cut down on debate time for many lower-level nominees.
‘Not holding him’
A tiny country of roughly 600,000 people lodged between Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg is the world’s second-largest holder of foreign investments. It is rumored to house many Iranian assets, making it strategically important terrain as the Trump administration mulls abandoning the Iran nuclear agreement, as well as investments from China and Russia.
Georgia allies such as Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue say they’re confident Evans will be confirmed, and they say they’re stepping up efforts to secure a vote in the weeks ahead.
“It’s just timing. He’ll be confirmed,” Perdue said.
Meanwhile, several Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee who previously voiced opposition to Evans said they are not the ones blocking him.
“There was a voter (ID) issue and that information was presented to our committee I believe in a satisfactory way,” Maryland Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said. “I would probably stick with (my committee vote against Evans), but I am not holding him and I would like to see his nomination completed.”
Coons said that some of the concerns raised against Evans during his confirmation were “pressing and I think appropriate” but that he wasn’t holding the nomination either.
“In general I have been encouraging my (Democratic) colleagues to make a point but to not block nominations that clearly will eventually get confirmed because of how many places around the world our diplomats are unable to do their work because we don’t have ambassadors,” he said.
One Democrat who has raised questions about Evans behind the scenes has been U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., according to two Senate aides.
When asked about the Evans nomination last week, Booker said, “I’m not going to talk about this at this point, nor will I confess to you that I have a hold.”
Several of Evans’ Democratic friends from Georgia have penned letters to senators appealing for his imminent confirmation, including former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden and ex-state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, who vouched for Evans’ time on the State Election Board. Both worked with Evans at the mega law firm Denton’s.
“He was the one Republican that actually put the brakes on photo I.D. in the 2006 general election and the insightful, well-articulated letter he prepared on this matter was unanimously adopted by the (State Election Board) which included both Democrats and Republicans,” Baker wrote.
A former leader of the Republican National Lawyers Association and a member of the Republican National Committee’s rules-setting panel, Evans had a prominent role during the party’s 2016 convention in Cleveland as Trump sought to secure enough GOP delegates to win the presidential nomination and tamp down possible rebellions.
Evans also represented Deal when his gubernatorial campaign faced ethics allegations in 2010 and worked with longtime confidante Gingrich when he ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at PoliticallyGeorgia.com.