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Brownback Discusses Stance on Iraq, Family Values

September 20, 2007 at 6:35 PM EDT
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In the first in a series of presidential candidate interviews, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., talks about his stance on the Iraq war and the importance of rebuilding family values in America.
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: Senator Brownback, welcome to the program.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), Kansas: Thank you, pleasure to join you.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you’ve been traveling the country at a time when the country’s been talking a lot about the Iraq war. What are you telling voters along the way about how you would deal with America’s involvement in Iraq?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: I’d tell them that I think we’ve had a very good military working, doing extraordinary things, and I think we’ve got a terrible political solution on the ground in Iraq. And we shouldn’t criticize our — you can be against the war, and you can be against it on a policy basis, but the military, General Petraeus, they’re doing everything they’re asked to do.

But we’re not getting a political solution on the ground. So I’m pushing a three-state soft partition, and I think that’s where we’ve really had a failure taking place. It’s not been on the military side, but it’s been on the political side.

We’re holding a resolution, I hope to get it to the floor this week, pushing for a soft partition, still one country, but leaving the Kurds in control of the north, giving the Sunnis control of the west, Shia the south, and Baghdad still a federal city. I think that’s the political solution that can allow us to pull back from the front lines and get our troop losses down, which is what people care so deeply about.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you think there’s more support, not only in the national legislature, but in the country for something that shortens the timeline and creates a durable solution?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Absolutely. That’s what people want. I’m convinced the way they look at it, the American people, and the way I look at it, is that they don’t want to lose in Iraq, but they don’t see us on a track to win. So there’s this — I don’t want to lose this, I don’t think we should lose it, but it doesn’t seem like we’re going on a route to win.

And the military can only create space for the political to act, and now they’ve created some space. But the political isn’t acting, because the structure is such that you’re almost guaranteed to have a weak Shia government in control in Iraq that can’t really deal with problems. That’s why I keep pushing this soft partition.

And I fundamentally believe, at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to take place in Iraq. Iraq is much less a country than it is three groups held together by exterior forces, held together by the Turks, the Saudis, and to some degree by the Iranians. And I think we have to recognize those realities.

RAY SUAREZ: That puts you at odds with the White House and the Defense and State Departments.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Not really. They’re not opposed to it; they just don’t support it. I was talking with the Kurdish ambassador to the United States last night, Mr. Barzani, who’s a relative of the leader of the Kurds. He just says the administration just needs to not oppose it, because this structure is allowed in the Iraqi constitution. The administration just doesn’t believe we can force the Iraqis on a certain political answer.

My response to that is, we’re putting blood on the line everyday, we’re putting billions of dollars into this. We can knock some political heads, particularly because you’ve got these old ancient rivalries between the Sunnis and Shia that we’re not going to solve, but we’ve got to get in some political durability before the American people’s timeframe runs out, which I think is coming pretty quick.

Brownback on Iraq and immigration

Sen. Sam Brownback
Republican Presidential Candidate
I think you have to have a long-term U.S. commitment to Iraq. The key is getting our death losses down.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, it seems that the president has already come to terms with the fact that whoever is president next is going to have Iraq on his or her plate. Let's say it's you. How are we involved from 2009 Inauguration Day for the next four years after that?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: I think we remain involved; I think you have to have a long-term U.S. commitment to Iraq. The key is getting our death losses down.

We're in Bosnia 15 years after the Dayton Accords and the split there, soft partition. We're in South Korea 60 years after the Korean War. We can be there a long time if we're not losing soldiers. That's why I continue to push the soft partition and then moving our troops back from the front of the line and from policing to where they would be in bases in the Kurdish region, in the Sunni region, and hopefully in the Shia region, as well, and then take actions from there, but not being involved in the policing and not having this daily, weekly loss of U.S. lives.

RAY SUAREZ: As a presidential candidate, have you found that the war has sort of filled up the windshield, blotted out the sky, made it harder to talk about other things that you want to talk about?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: It has, although I have to say, on our side of the aisle, immigration has more dominated the windshield, if you will, than even the war, just this really tough, visceral debate we've been having as a nation about immigration policy, about illegal immigration. And people support immigration, but they don't support illegal immigration, and so getting that reality on the ground here to reflect people's ideas has really been the dominant issue.

RAY SUAREZ: When it's been so hot, the national debate, how does a candidate go out there, in different parts of the country where the issue plays differently, and try to convene some sort of conversation about it? What do you tell people you want to do about immigration?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Yes, it's tough, because immigration -- if you look at the last 100 years in the United States, immigration politics has always been difficult, and it's always been a viscerally held issue. And always the group coming in is never good enough for the groups that already got here, you know? The Chinese were not good enough; then the Italians, they're not good enough; then the Irish. You know, I mean, it's always kind of waves.

And we're a nation of immigrants, and we know that, and we celebrate it, and it's a great strength of the country. But I find the way you have to talk about this is really to say, "Look, we're going to enforce the laws. The laws are the law, and we're going to enforce it. We're going to strengthen the southern border; we need to build a fence across it, across most of it. I think we need to have virtual fencing in some areas. We need to enforce it at the worksite."

And then, I think, after we get the enforcement, we show the country we're going to enforce the laws, I think we should look at ways to change it to make the system work, because I think the system itself is broken. So I'd support things like a guest-worker program to see if we can get ways to make the system itself work so that we have a legal immigration system and not an illegal immigration system.

RAY SUAREZ: What do you propose about the millions who are already here?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Yes, that's been the toughest piece of the puzzle. And I think right now what we have to do is enforce the law and then, in the future, I would hope we could look at something like a guest-worker program, but not one that's special for people that are here now, but a guest-worker program. If you want to get in it, great, God bless you. You've got to go to your home country; you've got to sign up; you've got to follow the process.

RAY SUAREZ: So there is a path to citizenship, in your view, of how this works in the future?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: No, not a path to citizenship. It's a path to a legal status and a guest worker, and not new paths to citizenship. If you can get in one of the old paths that currently exist -- and there are many, and we take more immigrants than any other country around the world, and I'm glad that we do. I think this is a strength of our country. But I think people should get in the lines that are already set.

RAY SUAREZ: Can the lines that are already set handle 12 million people?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: I don't know that they can, and I don't know that a number of people would qualify for those current lines. That's why I talk about a guest-worker program for people, many of which that just want to be here and work, or others that don't qualify for one of the current routes into citizenship in the United States.

It's a tough issue, and I'm not proposing a perfect solution. It's not. There isn't one. But I think we've got to try to work ourselves through the situation that we're in, and I think this is the most workable for us as a country.

RAY SUAREZ: When employers who are very influential in your party say, "Senator, you're killing me here. I won't be able to get people to put roofs on my houses, bring in my strawberries, pick my lettuce. The near-term pain is pretty severe," how do you answer that?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Well, it's severe there, but I don't think it's anywhere as tough as the very person you're talking about. You can talk about employees, but these are people. And how do you deal with the person? And then they build relationships.

I mean, that's where I find it much more difficult, because I believe in the rule of law. I think we should enforce the rule of law. I also believe in being a compassionate society. And so you've got this juxtapositioning of a rule of law against a compassionate society, and I think we should be a compassionate country.

That's where I find the toughest rub, and that's where I come with enforcing the law, but a guest-worker program that I would hope people could qualify for and get in as they follow the process that everybody else does.

Rebuilding the family

Sen. Sam Brownback
Republican Presidential Candidate
I really believe, in my heart and soul, that if we would rebuild and strengthen the family structure in the country, you'd start to really deal with a number of the most difficult problems we're having in the country today.

RAY SUAREZ: In a crowded field, after we talk about Iraq and immigration, why do you want to be the guy who's in that crowded field to make sure gets on the national agenda? What is it that we're not talking about because those are the two sort of giant signposts on the road to Campaign '08?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: What I want to talk about is rebuilding the family, because I really believe, in my heart and soul, that if we would rebuild and strengthen the family structure in the country, you'd start to really deal with a number of the most difficult problems we're having in the country today, in poverty, education, and in crime, but we've broken the family structure up.

We're in Washington, D.C., right now; 56 percent of the children here are born out of wedlock. You can raise a good child in a single-parent family, but it's much more difficult. My wife and I are raising five children, and it's tough between two people, let alone with one that's working full-time, and is stressed out, and coming home to a lot of difficulties.

That's what I think as a fundamental -- and I'm a person that believes in fundamentals, that if we as a government get the fundamentals right, much of the thing moves well and the country moves well. If we get the fundamentals wrong, you have a lot more difficulties, and you generally have to fill government in the slots where your difficulties grow. So this is a basic that I really think we've got to do a lot better at.

RAY SUAREZ: But as the chief executive of the United States, you're sort of at the top of that flowchart. How does the president affect whether people get married, or stay married, or stay in a long-term relationship to raise their children?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: You talk about it, and the words do create. When Ronald Reagan stands out in front of the Berlin Wall and says, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," he didn't have a bunch of tanks there and said, "OK, let's start now," but the words themselves create it.

I think a president calling on the American people, saying, "You know, I know there are difficulties in family situations, I know there are bad marriages that exist, but, folks, we can do better here in the country, and it's important for the next generation that we try harder and that we try to do more, and that we have systems like our welfare system."

Right now, if you get married, you lose all your benefits. That's insane! We should give people bonuses for getting married, and sending signals and talking about it to the society.

And talking about, too -- I'm a recovering lawyer. In this country today, it is far easier to get divorced from somebody you've been married to for 10 years and have three children by than to fire somebody that's worked for you for one year. Is that wise?

Now, I know there are problematic marriages and there are abuses that take place, but is that the right kind of system we should be looking at? I think we should talk about it a lot more.

RAY SUAREZ: Hasn't the incidence of divorce sort of leveled off from the big explosion that came in the '60s and '70s? Aren't we seeing a sort of mediation in the impact that divorce has in the number of marriages?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: You're seeing some, but prior to the '60s, you were at a 5 percent divorce rate, and you're seeing this level off at -- depending on whose figure you look at, and whether it's first, second, or third marriages, somewhere, you know, of a third to a half of the marriages still dissolve.

So, yes, you haven't seen -- during the '80s, you were seeing a clip up at a very high rate, and it's leveled off. But it's leveled off at a high rate. It needs to really come back down and people really work harder at their commitments.

The studies on this really are pretty pronounced, too, that children do better raised between a mom and a dad, and that people who will stay married five years after they start their having troubles, and when some got divorced, if they'll just stay in it for five years, sometimes just even plugging their ears, they're happier at the end of five years than people that broke their marriage commitment.

And I am not perfect by any means, but we have not had a good national conversation about this, and it's critically important.

The real conservative?

Sen. Sam Brownback
Republican Presidential Candidate
I also call myself a bleeding-heart conservative, because I think the conservative movement has to move forward, has to be a movement that solves real problems today, has to be a movement of heart.

RAY SUAREZ: There are people who are going to hear you say that and say, "I'm in a family. I'm in what I think of as a family, but I don't think Senator Brownback of Kansas means me when he says that, because the definition that fellows like him use is too narrow." And you mentioned it yourself, a man and a woman married with children.

Over the last 50 years, for good or ill, we've evolved a lot of different structures, of blended, of people who create community and create family as they can and where they have. Are you ready to also say to them, "You're a family, because you're making it work, because you're raising those children"?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: I'm willing to not only say that, I'm willing to say, "God bless you for working at it." And we should celebrate every child that's raised in this country that comes through and that really does well for themselves and for their family.

I'm ready, and I say it now all the time. But if you look at the social data, and Senator Moynihan really put me on these issues as much as any. He was the first real cultural commentator. Culture is more important than politics and government.

Now, you can use government and politics to shape culture, but us holding up and honoring and recognizing that the best place here is a stable environment for these children to raise your next generation is something we have not had a legitimate national conversation in a dispassionate setting, not condemning anybody, but just saying, "Look at what happens here when we put more children in a more difficult, unstable setting."

And that's what we should try to have as much as possible, is just a dispassionate setting and discussion, because I think it also resonates in people's hearts.

RAY SUAREZ: You've called yourself the real conservative in the race. Why? There are a couple of other guys I think who would disagree with you there.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: Well, they might, but I've got 4,500 votes behind that, and I've got a rating on that. I also call myself a bleeding-heart conservative, because I think the conservative movement has to move forward, has to be a movement that solves real problems today, has to be a movement of heart, as well, solves real problems that hits people in their hearts.

So it has to solve problems like poverty. It needs to solve problems of people in other places around the world, like in Darfur. So I just -- I am a conservative. I just think it's got to be a conservative that's a bleeding heart, that really cares, and that puts forward solutions on health care and other things that is where people live.

"More than enough government"

Sen. Sam Brownback
Republican Presidential Candidate
What I will do is put in place a commission that reviews government agencies and recommends annually a block of programs to be eliminated, like we do on military bases.

RAY SUAREZ: When you came to Washington, you said one of the things you wanted to do was close down the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I think I got them all.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: You got them.

RAY SUAREZ: When you're president, would you want to still move ahead on that? Should those departments that are some of the ways that people even connect with government, they hear from somebody from one of those departments, should they not exist?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: The point was that I was making at that time is that we've got more than enough government and it doesn't solve, in many cases, a lot of our problems, that if we would get a good structure in place, we could do it. And, no, I'm not going to move to eliminate those agencies.

But what I will do is put in place a commission that reviews government agencies and recommends annually a block of programs to be eliminated, like we do on military bases. We've got a base closing commission that reports every two to three years. It says, "These 200 bases should be eliminated" and then gives Congress one vote on the whole package, deal or no deal, eliminate them all, keep them all, because it drives people insane, the wasted federal spending. Everybody runs against it. It never happens.

But I think you've got to change the system. And this commission process -- one we currently use on BRAC, military bases -- applied to the rest of the government I think can start to get at that.

And then you take that money and you spend it on higher program needs, like declaring war on cancer, which I would love to see us do. We've got a tsunami of cancer set to come on as the boomer generation hits their peak cancer years. You're going to see a huge growth in the total number of cancer cases. We should be at that war now, but you've got to have money to do it, and here's where you get it.

RAY SUAREZ: Finally, the Constitution says the president should be a native-born citizen over 35.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: I qualify.

RAY SUAREZ: You qualify. But like a couple of 100 million other people, why should you be president?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: I think it's the basics. You know, I'm amazed at this nation. I was raised on a farm in eastern Kansas, and I'm running for president of the United States. I grew up taking care of the pigs. I love this country that, you know, somebody can do something like that.

I think it's that living of the American dream. It's a consistent philosophy. It's an experience in foreign policy, which we haven't particularly talked about, but I've chaired the Middle East Subcommittee, I've chaired the South Asian Subcommittee.

And it's that desire to rebuild the family, which is a basic, renew the culture, which is another basic, revive the economy, which is a key one for us to do, so we can grow and prosper, and sustain ourselves in this generation-long fight we're in with militant Islamists. We're in a fight. We're going to be in this fight for a long period of time.

I want us to pull together like we did against communism, to contain it, to contain this branch, this wing of militant Islamists. It's not all Islam. It's not a majority. But it is a dedicated branch, and we're going to be in this fight for some time. I think I'm the person rightly tooled to be able to do that.

RAY SUAREZ: Senator Brownback, thanks for joining us.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK: My pleasure. Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on the presidential candidates and campaign, visit our Vote 2008 site at PBS.org.