A Tennessee congressman on Friday accused the State Department of engaging in “woke PR stunts” after Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced this week that passport applicants can now choose which gender they identify as on the document.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) told The Post in a statement that the department had been “grossly negligent” by trumpeting Blinken’s announcement amid a backlog of passport applications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Efficiently processing the enormous passport application backlog takes a back seat to woke PR stunts at Biden’s State Department,” the statement said.
“It is grossly negligent to prioritize political correctness while folks in my district and around the country are missing travel arrangements for mission trips, vacations, and even final goodbyes with loved ones.”
Blinken’s announcement specified that applicants who choose a different gender from the one listed on other government documents, such as a birth certificate, will no longer have to provide medical certification of their identity.
The State Department is also working on adding a third gender option to passport applications for those who identify as “non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming,” Blinken said. He cautioned that adding the third option would take time due to the need for “extensive systems updates.”
Burchett, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, attempted during a bill markup session Thursday to attach an amendment blocking the State Department from moving forward with the change until the passport backlog is addressed. His effort was defeated along party lines.
“My staff cannot update constituents regarding the current status of their passport applications,” Burchett said during the hearing, later adding: “You would think that the Biden administration should have no higher priority than to resume full staffing and add extra hours of service to clear the backlog of passport requests.
“Unfortunately, we learned yesterday that the administration does have higher priorities, Secretary Blinken announced he will begin the process of updating our passport procedures [and] offer a gender marker for nonbinary, intersex and gender non-conforming persons,” Burchett went on. “But think about it, making this major change is time-consuming. Why is the administration stoking the embers of the cultural war, when we have more pressing concerns? … Every single member of this committee has constituents reaching out to them about passport-related problems. Even Democrats should be able to acknowledge that this should not be our number one priority.”
Last week, Burchett called on the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, which issues passports and other documents, to pick up its pace.
“It is unacceptable my staff cannot update constituents regarding the current status of their passport applications,” Burchett wrote in the June 22 letter to Bureau of Consular Affairs Acting Assistant Secretary Ian Brownlee. “Not only is this a serious problem for my constituents, but also American citizens across the country as they resume their daily lives.
“While I understand there are difficulties resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, I encourage you to devote greater time and effort to reducing the massive passport backlog and improving communication with congressional staff,” Burchett added. “The quicker this issue is resolved, the quicker our economy returns to pre-pandemic levels.”