Is President Trump’s nominee to represent the United States at the United Nations in Geneva in last-minute trouble? A long, detailed letter, sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by prominent global human-rights groups and those concentrating on women’s health, voices strong opposition to the candidacy of Andrew Bremberg as US ambassador in Geneva.
The committee vote on Bremberg’s nomination and others, including Kelly Knight Craft as US ambassador to the UN (in New York), is scheduled for July 23. [Editor’s note: the vote was approved for Knight Craft on July 25 but delayed for Bremberg.] The urgency to pass Bremberg’s nomination by the committee, said Democratic sources with knowledge of the Senate Republican’s plans, breaks with the committee’s “longstanding comity” as Republicans cave in to White House pressures to push through nominations immediately. (After the committee votes, it sends its recommendations to the full Senate for another vote.)
The letter also deplores Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights, which is supported by Bremberg. It is to be led by Mary Ann Glendon, a distinguished Harvard law professor and adviser to the Holy See in Rome.
Pompeo’s practical goals for the commission, which was created in secrecy in the State Department, remain clouded, worrying certain rights groups. But one aspect is sure: it is being viewed as a path for moving US policies away from the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Bremberg, a director of domestic policy at the White House, was the architect of the administration’s expansion of the global gag rule, banning US government money to nongovernmental organizations working overseas that offer abortions or referral services. He was also tasked with ending Obamacare, which failed to happen; and he has promoted policies “that would result in decreased access to health care services for people in the U.S., including defunding Planned Parenthood. . . . ,” according to the letter.
It was signed by 36 organizations, ranging from Human Rights Watch to Planned Parenthood Federation of America and from the American Jewish World Service to the National Organization for Women. It was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator James Risch (R-Idaho), and ranking member Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), on July 12.
The signees expressed their opposition to the nomination of Bremberg as ambassador, noting right off that this is a “position of critical importance.”
“The person occupying this role will be responsible for representing the U.S. in efforts to address some of the world’s biggest challenges, including health, human rights, and humanitarian crises and the resulting refugee and migration trends,” it continues.
The writers say that Bremberg’s confirmation hearing, written responses and previous record in government “indicate he will not only obstruct, but actively work against the interests of individuals and communities worldwide who face the greatest barriers to sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice.”
PassBlue reported on Bremberg’s Senate hearing on June 26. In the hearing, Bremberg, who grew up in Summit, N.J., told the senators, which caused a stir on Twitter and elsewhere: “I am pro-life, I believe that all human life is sacred, and that human life begins at conception.”
Asked by Menendez if rape victims should have access to abortion, Bremberg replied, “I don’t believe that abortion is a moral solution to any problem.”
That comment was also repeated in the letter from the 36 organizations, who wrote, among their other major qualms about Bremberg: “We are deeply concerned about Mr. Bremberg’s ability to promote the health and rights of all people. The role for which Mr. Bremberg is nominated will include representing U.S. interests with critical health organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, charged with expanding access to health care.”
The Lancet medical journal recently reported that the US global gag rule has actually been increasing the incidence of abortions, most likely unsafe ones, particularly in countries relying heavily on US aid, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa.
A senior Democratic Senate aide told PassBlue, responding to the organizations’ letter, that “Bremberg’s performance at his hearing should speak for itself, that is, if you care enough about Congressional oversight to put country over party.” Risch’s office did not offer a response immediately.
At his Senate hearing, Bremberg seemed ready to extend Trump’s campaign against sexual and reproductive rights, including ensuring no funding to the UN Population Fund, citing concerns over “coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” practices in China, he said. Yet the UN Population Fund has repeatedly denied these claims across decades of such accusations from White House administrations under the Republican Party.
Besides being the UN headquarters of the WHO, Unaids, the International Organization for Migration, the Refugee Agency and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva is the seat of the Human Rights Council, of which the US withdrew from a year ago, a move forwarded by Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN then.
In his Senate hearing, Bremberg promised to defend the rights of the LGBTQ community. In his written testimony, he said that he would continue to support US aid for HIV/AIDS, explaining, “This Administration has and will continue to support policies furthering the health and well being of all people, including minority groups, unmarried adolescent girls, and LGBTI individuals.”
Yet the letter to the Senate committee singled out the potential problems for LGBTQ people should Bremberg become ambassador.
The letter notes: “Mr. Bremberg’s record and confirmation hearing leave no doubt he will use the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva to strip away reproductive rights and LGBTQI rights around the world.”
The writers also singled out that during his hearing, Bremberg supported the Trump administration’s “egregious and extraordinary threat to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2467 on gender-based violence in conflict over a reference to survivors’ access to sexual and reproductive health care.”
The threat by the US in the Security Council toward this resolution, which was proposed by Germany, caused an uproar in the UN and far beyond when it surfaced in April, and PassBlue broke the news on it. (The resolution ended up being devoid of language referring to “sexual and reproductive rights.”)
As for Pompeo’s new Commission on Unalienable Rights, to be led by the well-known Vatican adviser, Mary Ann Glendon, was cited by the letter writers as another object of concern. (Glendon is also an expert on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, having written a book about the making of the document, titled “A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”)
The letter writers described Bremberg’s “full-throated defense of Secretary Pompeo’s newly announced Commission on Unalienable Rights” as indicating “he will advocate against the widespread understanding that human rights are universal and indivisible.”
They added that his “promotion of ‘natural law and natural rights’ that are ‘endowed by our Creator,’ ” signal Bremberg’s “support for this administration’s positions that some rights supercede others.”
The terminology used by Bremberg and the commission, they noted as well, “are commonly used by extremist groups opposed to reproductive rights, gender equity, and LGBTQI rights, and these comments provide reason to believe Mr. Bremberg would support these extreme positions and align himself with the groups pushing this anti-rights agenda worldwide.”
Pompeo’s announcement about the commission and Glendon’s role has alarmed an array of rights groups and reveals more obviously that Pompeo’s Evangelical Christian beliefs are influencing US foreign policy.
Pompeo convened, for example, his second ministerial-level, multifaith conference on religious freedom around the world this month. He has said that he sees a role for Jesus in everything he does.
In the stream of policy contradictions constantly flowing from the Trump administration, Pompeo warns all the time about the “theocracy” of Iran, most recently saying that the country’s “revolutionary design of their theocracy . . . says that it’s okay to go out and inflict terror.”
The word “theocracy” popped up by at least one Twitter commenter, BHP Animal Watch, to describe Pompeo’s new commission and his religious conference, too, warning of “our coming theocracy.”
This article was updated.
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.