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Will This Catholic Senator Be the Next President? An IgnatiusInsight.com Interview with Senator Sam Brownback


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One of the key figures in the current battle over President George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court is Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback. (see related IgnatiusInsight story). A convert to Catholicism, Brownback is considering a run for the presidency in 2008.

Beyond his role on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Harriet Miers confirmation hearings, Brownback is the lead sponsor of a Senate bill to ban human cloning and is heavily involved in projects in Africa. In addition, Brownback is working on a project that would reward big pharmaceutical companies for developing cures for Third World diseases by extending the life of some of their other, lucrative drugs, such as Viagra.

Raised on a family farm near Parker, Kansas, Brownback, 49, lives in Topeka with his wife and five children. After serving two years in the U.S. House, Brownback was elected to the Senate in 1996, filling out the term of Sen. Bob Dole.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Could you give your take on what’s happening with the Supreme Court nomination process regarding Harriet Miers?

Sen. Brownback:
It’s in the due diligence phase right now. The members of the Senate have to give advice and consent to the president and we’re trying to gather as much information to give a legitimate bit of advice and consent or not consent. It’s really in a fact-gathering phase right now. It’ll go into hearings on November 7th. I think the hearings will be very important for this nominee. And then it will move the floor, probably after Thanksgiving.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Is there a chance you will suggest that the President withdraw Miers as a nominee?

Sen. Brownback:
I doubt that’s going to happen. That’s not our role in the process. It’s his to nominate and it’s ours to vote up or down. And, if the president decides to do that, that’s his call but I really think ours is to just really try to give a fair appraisal to the nominee.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Have you gotten to a point where you have a strong feeling either way about Miers?

Sen. Brownback:
I don’t. I don’t have sufficient information yet and it’s too early to make that call. We need to see a much fuller portrait of the candidate before we make–before I, or others–should make that decision.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Princeton University constitutional scholar Robert George says it is important that when Catholics (or anyone else) is looking at a nominee, that they see how the nominee views the Constitution. Is that how you would approach it?

Sen. Brownback:
Yes. I think it’s critical: do they view the Constitution as a living document? Is it a textual document? What is their view of judicial restraint, which we’ve seen precious little of the last three decades? To me those are both key issues and ones that we should get a pretty good picture of the nominee’s view on. That isn’t calling on the nominee to make or prejudge a case, but it should give us a better idea of how they would serve on the bench.

IgnatiusInsight.com: George’s view is that the President at times is called to uphold the Constitution in a way that would be in conflict with the Supreme Court. Do you think that is a possible scenario?

Sen. Brownback:
Hmm–that the President would uphold the Constitution in conflict?

IgnatiusInsight.com: For instance, the
Dred Scott decision was decided before President Lincoln was president but Lincoln said that the Dred Scott decision was in conflict with the Constitution. Lincoln said that he, when he was president, would disagree with that decision because in it the Court said that even free blacks had no right to be citizens. And in contradiction to the Dred Scott ruling, President Lincoln issued passports to blacks and gave them other rights as citizens.

Sen. Brownback:
It’s very interesting because it’s the sort of thing–a bit of what Reagan did in declaring the personhood of the unborn. Because the unborn in this society to date we treat as a biological life but not as a person. And yet you know obviously what the Court has done is allow the treatment of the child in the womb as property. That would be a very interesting stance for a president to take in defending the Constitution. I have to think about that some more. That’s a good thought.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You are considering running for president. Have you formed a (campaign finance) committee?

Sen. Brownback:
I have not formed a committee yet. I have made some initial stops and travels into various states but have not appointed a formal committee and have not made a final decision.

IgnatiusInsight.com: When do you think you would make a decision?

Sen. Brownback:
Sometime next year, I think that would be a proper time. By the time you get to the midterm cycle, November of ‘06. You have your first real test in August of 2007 in the Ames [Iowa] straw poll. That is one that a lot of people mark off from.

IgnatiusInsight.com: I wanted to ask you about the whole cloning issue. Would it be fair to say that you are the lead person in the Senate opposing human cloning?

Sen. Brownback:
Yes, there are a number of people who do, but I’ve been the one carrying the bill and have filed the bill to ban human cloning.

IgnatiusInsight.com: How is it you arrived at your position and decided it was an important position?

Sen. Brownback:
It’s life. I believe every life at every stage should be treated as beautiful, as sacred, as a unique child of the living God, and should be protected. And I do not think it is right for us to then create life just to destroy and research on it–regardless of how you create that human life. There’s a sacredness to each and every life at every stage.

That led to my thoughts and work on cloning but it also led to work in Africa, in taking care and working on issues in the Sudan, working with some of the minority communities because each life is sacred and we should treat it with great dignity. That’s really been the source of that work and viewpoint. Fortunately we’ve been provided a great way to provide cures for people through adult stem cells, or the cord blood–right now I think we’re up to about 68 different areas of human maladies being treated by either cord blood or adult stem cells. There’s no ethical problem with those. Thousands of patients have been treated thus far. So we have a good answer and then I think there’s a wrong answer.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Can you give some specifics about what you are doing as far as Africa and minority communities?

Sen. Brownback:
Yes, I worked a lot on Sudan–carried the bill on the Sudan peace act between North and South. And that got passed and the administration has pushed aggressively and has secured a peace agreement and an active peace between North and South.

I’m working now on Darfur (and the genocide there), what’s called the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, to try to put similar pressure in that western Sudan area.

I pushed aggressively on malaria as an issue–sixty percent of the children in sub-Sahara Africa have malaria–to get effective treatments out in the region. So far much of our money just goes for conferences and not for products. Helped with the President’s initiative on the AIDS epidemic, particularly in Africa. Worked with a group on water projects in Africa; a lot of Africa does not have drinkable water. Trying to get appropriations (and have secured some in the past) to get just water drilling.

And then another project–we haven’t got it as far along–of getting more pharmaceutical company research on diseases in Third World countries. Most of the product research goes on in the developing world and I’ve got a proposal to extend lifestyle patents–patents on lifestyle drugs two years–if a company comes up for a cure for a one of the listed category of diseases that’s a Third World disease. For instance, sleeping sickness, river blindness, we’ve got a litany of them. If a company can come up with a cure on this, we would grant them a two-year patent extension on a drug in this category of drugs called "lifestyle."

IgnatiusInsight.com: Give an example, if you would, of a lifestyle drug.

Sen. Brownback:
Viagra would be the most prominent or known one. Because we’re trying to provide an incentive for the companies to do more research in some of these Third World disease areas.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Have the companies been receptive to that?

Sen. Brownback:
They love it. They really like it because it fits their business model. A two-year patent extension on a big drug product is worth a lot of money to them. And they like swinging for the fences and they strike out a lot. But, this is one, if we give them a category of series of diseases and we say you find a cure for this, we give you two years on that, that’s the exact kind of business model they like. Because if they get a hit, it really scores big.

Plus, a lot of them, they want to cure these diseases. There is just no market in Chad or Niger or Sudan. If you get the perfect cure, there’s still no market there.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Who is going to buy the drug for people in those countries–who would pay for the drugs if the pharmaceutical companies come up with them?

Sen. Brownback:
We would get the patent for the drug product and then produce it or give it–license it–to an NGO (non-government organization), somebody else to produce. Most drug products, not all, but most drug products cost hundreds of millions to develop and pennies to replicate. You have to have certain standards and there’s a complicated process but generally each additional pill is not an expensive item once the product is developed.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You support the proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. [Senator Sam Brownback most recently chaired a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution on the amendment Oct. 20th] to examine a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. That doesn’t seem like something that is going to go very far. Do you have any sense of what will happen with that?

Sen. Brownback:
I don’t. I support the constitutional amendment on marriage (introduced by Colorado Republican Wayne Allard) and held hearings in support of that.

I think, at the end of the day, the Court is probably going to force something to happen on this. I think it would be a very good thing to do it. But it’s a big hurdle to a constitutional amendment–two thirds of the House, two thirds of the Senate, three fourths of the states–it takes a lot.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You are a convert to Catholicism. Would you mind talking about how you ended up becoming a Catholic?

Sen. Brownback:
I felt a deep calling to make that move and spent roughly four years really studying, reading, thinking about it–praying about it before deciding to join. I was very happy in the Evangelical church I was in. I had no problems with the Evangelical church at all. It’s just I felt a deep spiritual calling to do it and have been delighted to join the Catholic Church. The readings that I’ve done since then by Catholic writers–I’ve really enjoyed the depth and the beauty of the expression. It’s been very helpful to my faith journey.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Which writers, would you say?

Sen. Brownback:
Right now I’m reading a book by a former archbishop of Mexico City, (Luis) Martinez, and the book is When Jesus Sleeps. It’s a beautiful set of thoughts about when we feel as if God’s not there. That’s one that I’m currently reading. It’s the second book I’ve read by this author. I read another one, True Devotion to the Holy Spirit, another very thoughtful and beautiful set of thoughts and comments.

IgnatiusInsight.com: When you decided to join the Catholic Church, did the rest of your family join?

Sen. Brownback:
They did not. And they have not. So, what we do as a family is, I will get up–usually early on Sunday mornings–sometimes not, but typically I’ve been getting up, going to Mass, and then we will go all together to the Evangelical church that I had been attending and the family continues to attend.

So I get a great Sunday morning. I get the Eucharist and the beauty of the set of Catholic thoughts and then the praise and worship and preaching of an Evangelical church. Great combination. It’s a great mixture of the feeding and I really enjoy it.

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