Q&A with Sen. Sam Brownback
Sen. Sam Brownback is widely regarded as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, a label he lived up to recently in vigorously opposing Congress's attempts to provide funding for expanded embryonic stem cell research. But the Kansas Republican has made common cause with liberals by drawing attention to the genocide in Darfur and irked some conservatives by championing comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants. As he mulls over a presidential bid-he says he'll make the decision soon after the midterm elections-Brownback sat down with U.S. News for a wide-ranging interview.
On the future of the GOP:
Much of the change of the party came with Reagan ... now you're seeing the accomplishment of a fair number of those agenda items, and the party is saying, "How do we grow from here? How do we expand the base?" You have to get more plays in the playbook. The expansion of the party takes place in the compassionate conservative agenda area, under the notion that every person at every state of life is a beautiful, unique, sacred child of a living God.
On how compassionate conservatism translates into specific issues:
We've got a Second Chance Act on prison reform that's about building relationships and mentoring prisoners for the last 18 months they're in jail. It will help reduce the recidivism rate by 50 percent in five years ... [Compassionate conservatism] plays into welfare reform. We're working on family formation within the welfare system, because the less money you make, the more unlikely you are to get married. It applies to Darfur. There is a wave in this country to engage in Africa. It's the continent of the most human suffering in the world today.
What compassionate conservatism means for immigration reform:
You have to look at every person as a sacred child of a living God. It doesn't matter if they're in a womb, in a city, where they are. This has been a tough debate within our party, about how do you take the compassionate agenda when it goes up against the law-and-order agenda. Whether we can get comprehensive immigration reform with border security first out of this Congress is probably 50-50 at best.
What's at stake for the GOP with immigration reform?
A lot of the future of the Republican Party will be appealing to Hispanic voters, a number of whom have very consistent values with the base of the party. But we've got to convince people that we want them. People do not see the immigration debate as something where we're appealing to Hispanic voters. That's why I went to the La Raza convention and spoke. We want Hispanic voters. But you've got to fight for voters.
As a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, are you nervous that you've upset the GOP base?
I am. But you've got to stand on what you believe in. If they're not your principles in tough times, they're probably not your principles.
Many social conservatives are pro-life and pro-death penalty. How can you be both?