An Interview With Senator Sam Brownback
John Hawkins:: From what I’m seeing out there in the blogosphere, there’s an enormous amount of anger at this deal that was cut with the Democrats on judges. Right now, a lot of conservatives seem to see this as a deal that keeps Republicans from using the constitutional option while allowing Democrats to filibuster at will and call it “extraordinary circumstances.” Do you agree with that?
Sam Brownback:: Well, we did not pull the constitutional option off; that’s still available. It seems to me that you had a few people, but enough, structure a deal that puts the fight off until the Supreme Court battle. That’s basically what took place.
John Hawkins:: In your opinion, would a partisan filibuster under just about any circumstances kill the deal and lead to the constitutional option being used?
Sam Brownback:: That would be my sense at this point in time. We have been working on this for 5 years now, to get judges through on a simple majority instead of a super majority which has been required by the Democrats. At this point in time, if they filibuster anybody then we move right back into the same mode to move this to a 51 vote margin.
John Hawkins:: The deal that was cut on judicial filibusters: in your mind, good deal, bad deal? Would you prefer to have gone nuclear or do you think we’re better off with the deal that was cut?
Sam Brownback:: I’m still digesting that point. I was ready to move forward. It seemed to me that it was time to move forward. We had showed every restraint, every caution. We had worked closely with the Democrats to move these (judges) forward. A number of these judges had been waiting 4 years. It was time to move forward and to get this done…
It seemed like we would have a cleaner case and set-up for a Supreme Court nominee had we moved on through and that was probably the thing that actually secured the deal with a number of the Democrats not to allow us to exercise the constitutional option.
John Hawkins:: Now I notice the deal pretty much explicitly tosses William Myers and Henry Saad over the side. What about the other two judges (Brett Kavanaugh and William J. Haynes)? There were a couple who weren’t mentioned as getting votes, who were sort of left out of the deal. Have you heard any word on what’s going to happen to them?
Sam Brownback:: I have not. My guess is that the leadership is going to go ahead and bring them up and see if we can move them on through.
John Hawkins:: Do you believe we need a Constitutional Amendment to protect marriage? If so, why?
Sam Brownback:: I absolutely believe we need a Constitutional Amendment to protect marriage. I’ve had that thought for a number of reasons but we now have a live case, a federal court case in Nebraska, where the: federal judge in Nebraska has ruled that their state constitutional amendment protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman is unconstitutional on several grounds. If that opinion is allowed to stand it will be used to strike all the state constitutional amendments and is even interpreted by some as requiring several unions to be provided for same sex couples across the country.
John Hawkins:: So, in essence, what it comes down to is that the judges are going to force it to become legal whatever we do if we don’t have a Constitutional Amendment?
Sam Brownback:: We’re in a scenario now where either the courts or the American people are going to determine what the definition of marriage is ‘ is it a man and a woman or is it any kind of relationship of people that seek to be together? We are now at these latest cases, the Texas case, the Lawrence case, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court case; we are in that scenario now. It’s either going to be determined by the courts or by the people.
John Hawkins:: The Republican Party seems to be divided on illegal immigration. On one side we have some Republicans who don’t seem very concerned about illegal aliens or border security and on the other side, we have legislators who consider border security and getting rid of illegal aliens to be a very high priority. Where do you stand and what do you think we need to be doing on the issue?
Sam Brownback:: I think there’s great uniformity in the party on what we need to do. I think everybody agrees that we need to strengthen the borders and strengthen enforcement — and then try to provide some system for people who seek to work here but not stay and become citizens — and a system that’s not overly cumbersome that they can’t access and use.
I think everybody agrees on that basic premise and then where the divergence comes is some people want a tougher enforcement system, other people want a more lucrative work system. I think if cooler minds prevail on this that you’re going to be able to get the balance of both of those together and if we get it right we will substantially reduce the number of undocumented individuals in the United States which right now is way too high and we’ve got to start getting that number down.
John Hawkins:: Now, would it be beneficial in your opinion to get it down by just simply making them citizens?
Sam Brownback:: I don’t think anybody’s looking at that and I’m not familiar with individuals in the Republican party that are looking at a system like what President Reagan did, where he just granted a blanket amnesty. I think everybody is considering how to get people, particularly ones that are already here in the United States, into a legal system — using a combination of getting the social security system and card to a point where it is verifiable and useable as an employer to be able to determine if somebody is a legal person — sanctions on the company if they do know that this person is illegally here and still employs that person — and then on top of that providing some sort of incentive to get into a worker system — either getting a green card after working a number of years in the United States — and the legalized system as an incentive to get people into that system.
John Hawkins:: Last question on illegal immigration ‘ some people have pointed out that for people who have followed the rules and waited in line, it’s unfair to them to allow illegals who are already here to go ahead and be allowed into the system. They have suggested that perhaps we should lock down the borders as closely as we can, which is something you seem to agree with basically, and also crack down on any employers who happen to be hiring illegals which they say would induce most of the illegals that are here to self-deport. Then we could go ahead and maybe set up a system to cover the people who’ve been waiting legally. Would you support that sort of thing?
Sam Brownback:: Well, I think you have to get a system where the employer, when he checks through government apparatuses, knows whether the person is actually here legally or illegally. The current system is flawed on that. The social security card system is flawed and there is a lot of fraudulent numbers and cards being used and then they’re not checked back in and through the system and that’s got to be dealt with, for one.
I don’t know that you’re going to be able to get the number I’ve heard ‘ 8 to 11 million undocumented individuals in the United States ‘ out of the country to register and to come back. That’s why I personally have favored some sort of system where they have to register, but they can register here to be able to get into a legalized system, if there’s a penalty for their being here both illegally and registering for the legal system — but not a forced exiting before they can come back.
John Hawkins:: Another area where Republicans up on the Hill get a lot of criticism from the base is on deficit spending. Sure, the war, 9/11, and the recession all certainly played a role in increased spending, but realistically, there seems to have been very little fiscal discipline shown by either party in Washington. So, what do you think we should do to get the deficit back under control and would you support a Balanced Budget Amendment?
Sam Brownback:: I have supported a Balanced Budget Amendment in the past and I would support it again. But what we’ve got to do is change the structure of the system here where the system legislators believe it rewards them to spend money rather than save it and it’s just structured wrong.
I put in a proposal, we’ve got it in on the House side, and we’ll get it in on the Senate side in the next couple of weeks, that does a BRAC type of structure for the rest of government including entitlement programs where you have a commission look at the totality of government. Are these programs effective? Are they duplications? If they are, then propose eliminations of whole programs — or maybe the program accomplished its purpose — or maybe it was never effective in the first place. They do those appraisals and then present in front of Congress a bill that says these 363 programs should be eliminated and give Congress one vote up or down without amendment whether to keep them all or to eliminate them all.
I think we’ve got to change the structure and the BRAC structure has been successful in changing, reducing a number of military bases, consolidating them successfully and I think we ought to use that structure throughout the rest of government. We have to get spending under control. We have not been able to do that and we need to change this structure to be able to get that done.
John Hawkins:: That’s a good idea actually.
Sam Brownback:: It’s worked in other places and it can work on our spending. It’s not that we don’t have enough money, that we’re not spending enough money. We are, it’s just that we’ve got a lot of wasted places and places that, according to the government itself, the OMB, when they give a scorecard on a number of these programs, they’re scoring at 50% or below in effectiveness and we shouldn’t tolerate that and yet we continue to let it happen.
John Hawkins:: Now you’ve been to Iraq: how do you think we’re doing over there and where do you see the country headed in a year?
Sam Brownback:: First, I have to offer that the soldiers and airmen and sailors and others, the marines, that are serving in Iraq, are doing a fantastic job, are dedicated young people and are carrying the banner of freedom very well. I think we’re doing quite well and we’re having an impact throughout the Middle East with changes now in Lebanon, pressure on Syria, hopefully, elections in Egypt. There are a lot of positive things happening. In a year it’s my hope that we will have turned over a lot of the patrolling and security operations on a localized basis to the Iraqis, that our troops will be garrisoned and we will start to pull our troop levels down in Iraq.
John Hawkins:: Do you think Republicans, like yourself, get a fair shake from the mainsteam media or do you believe that there’s a different standard, a sort of double standard that gives Democrats an advantage in the press?
Sam Brownback:: I think that just generally there’s more of a liberal mindset in mainstream media reporters — certainly at the national level upper print and electronic — and so there’s less of a tendency to look at somebody like myself as a good source for information — because the basis from which I come at issues would be more conservative than what they would.
Having said that…I find that when you are conservative you can work on a number of issues with people on the other side of the aisle — even really on the far left– and if you carefully pick those topics and I’ve worked on a number of them that are human rights, religious freedom — based on that, we’ve had quite a bit of success and good, fair reporting.
John Hawkins:: Just to get an idea of your priorities, let’s say you could get any three pieces of legislation you wanted passed. Give us a quick run-down on those three ‘ what they’d be.
Sam Brownback:: On this year?
John Hawkins:: If someone came up to you and said, ‘Sam Brownback, pick any three pieces of legislation you want, anything you want, to get them passed, what would they be?
Sam Brownback:: My first would be on the life issue. We’d be getting legislation to protect young human life in the womb and from being researched on.
The second one, given the nature and the time that we’re in right now, would probably be that deficit reduction deal…that I mentioned to you. As to the rest of government we do need to get this budget balanced and get it centered back to where we need to get it.
And then there would probably be the decency legislation that’s pending now, increasing fines toward Hollywood, really trying to send a message into the culture that we need to clean up the culture.
I want to take back that one. I’d probably do a piece of immigration legislation instead of a decency one. I think that’s just a more important area — the immigration. So it’d be a life, deficit reduction bill, and immigration.
John Hawkins:: Do you read any blogs, any online news sources?
Sam Brownback:: You know, I don’t. I know a number of people that do. They’re an extraordinary communication tool for a lot of people, but I don’t personally.
John Hawkins:: I understand. In 2008: Are we going to see Sam Brownback toss his hat into the ring for the presidency?
Sam Brownback:: Well, I’m looking at it and I am considering it. No final decision has been made. My wife and I are talking about that. I’ve made some early trips into Iowa and New Hampshire, Michigan, and last year some travels around South Carolina. I haven’t been there this year and I’m considering it. It’s quite a challenge and so I’m taking time and looking at it quite carefully.
John Hawkins:: I really appreciate your time. Thanks a lot for your time.
Sam Brownback:: Thanks so much, John. You take care.