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?
I only support [capital punishment] in cases where we cannot protect the public from the individual. Osama bin Laden: When we catch him, we cannot protect the public from him. But outside of that, it is difficult to teach a culture of life and that you still use a death penalty.
When it comes to possible advances through stem cell research, how do you weigh the life of a cancer patient with a life in a petri dish that might be discarded?
You've got to make the determination "is this a life or is it property?" Some would argue the life in a petri dish is property and should be treated as such. I don't think you can do that. Just like you can't take a death penalty argument-you can get a death row inmate, harvest his organs, and save 10 lives. And we're galled by that. We'd say, "What are you talking about?" And people say, "He's going to be killed anyway." It galls us. This is the lead social issue of our day.
Do you support the creation of a cap-and-trade system for manufacturers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?
Global warming has occurred. We have far more CO2 in the atmosphere than we had 100 years ago. That's factual. A number of people question how close the linkage is [to global warming]. It's prudent that we do everything we can without killing the economy to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, regardless of how you look at the correlation. But I'm not at the point yet where I've been able to say the cap-and-trade system would be effective without substantially harming the economy and that it would create a substantial reduction of CO2.
The House just passed a bill to strip federal courts of jurisdiction in cases involving the "one nation under God" wording in the pledge. A good idea?
I support the judicial stripping, regrettably. It's a blunt instrument approach to something that the courts should do themselves, which is show judicial restraint. If the court doesn't show restraint, you'll see more Congresses using this approach. I don't think it's good, but you've got these tectonic plates pushing against each other.
On his support for the Iraq war:
A number of things are happening that are very positive in terms of areas that are secure in Iraq. But in Baghdad, it's a problem. You've got a global war on terrorism that we've been talking about for long time, and now you're seeing it. You just can't say we're going to pull out of Iraq or that six months from now we're going to cut our troop levels in half. The terrorists win. Unlike Vietnam, where they stay there when we leave, these guys come after us.
What are you looking for in the 2006 midterms as you decide whether to run for president?
You've got a lot of people watching 2006 to try to determine are they the right person for 2008. Reagan got this right when he said, "You don't pursue the presidency; it pursues you." You've got to be the right person, with the right set of ideas, at the right moment ... How did Bill Clinton get elected president? If you look at the objective set of factors a year and half out from that election, his odds were 1 in 10. But man, message, and moment all met, and boom.
Some have questioned your ability to raise funds for a presidential bid.
I like the [primary] system, where you have to pass through Iowa and New Hampshire, two retail politics states. This is hand-to-hand combat, and for a guy like me, it makes it that you can actually [compete] because your money threshold isn't as enormous.