With the decision to retire at the end of the 107th Congress made by old-guard Republican Sens. Phil Gramm of Texas and Jesse Helms of North Carolina, it is time to ask: From where will the next generation of conservative leaders come?
In one case, it may be from the land of Dorothy and her clicking heels, of the Great Plains bronzed by a sprawling coat of wheat and, of course, the rock chalk of the Kansas Jayhawks. In recent years Sen. Sam Brownback has emerged as one of the most eager conservative legislators on Capitol Hill, with an unrelenting focus on issues as varied as his own background, which includes experience as a farmer, a lawyer and a radio broadcaster
"Yes, things have been very busy of late," Brownback tells INSIGHT. His senatorial committee responsibilities include serving as ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee on Immigration. He also holds seats on the Foreign Relations Committee, where he is a Middle East specialist, and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, on which he must tackle the myriad issues rising from the ever-evolving and merging telecommunications industry.
Yet Brownback's impact has been felt even more on matters closer to the heart -- namely, cloning and bioethics. Before the issue of embryonic stem-cell research captured media attention last summer, Brownback was a leading force in calling for caution as science raced past both law and ethics in the new areas of genetic engineering and human cloning. Almost singlehandedly, the senator has fought to keep the issue on the Senate agenda, insisting on a commitment from Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to allow a vote on legislation to ban cloning.
Insight: Before we get to cloning, senator, what is your reaction to the mid-March snafu by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) granting education visas for two of the dead Sept. 11 hijackers and the impact this revelation will have on pending legislation to reform the immigration system?
Sen. Sam Brownback: Well, I was horrified when I heard about that. It was even more outrageous considering that these were probably the two most publicized hijackers.
Insight: The issue of how to reform the INS and our nation's immigration system has heated up since Sept. 11, and even more so since the recent snafu at INS. There are lots of reform proposals milling around Capitol Hill. How can the system be reformed?
SB: The way that we're headed right now is to force these [governmental] agencies [that deal with immigration and related problems] to share information and work together to get biometric-reading cards so that we know who we're dealing with.
We have held a couple of hearings on this, and I have had a lot of conversations with administration officials. What we were finding is that the State Department had information, and the INS had information and some officials at the CIA and the FBI also had information -- but they were not sharing it.
This involves the State Department as well because it often is the first line in issuing visas overseas. We need to know, when someone is standing there applying for a visa, that they are who they say they are. And biometric readers will be able to establish that. This makes it possible to prevent them from getting into the United States in the first place.
Insight: As has been evidenced by the steady stream of horror stories involving airport security, there is a big difference between passing legislation and implementing reform. What kind of time span do you see before provisions of the border-security bill, such as biometrics, are implemented?
SB: Time lines are established in the legislation. In our border-security bill, which we introduced a year ago, we originally had a year deadline before the system had to be implemented. We held a number of hearings in which experts said they liked the objective and agreed with it but think it's too aggressive. …