Sam Brownback, a longstanding Republican Party figure, was elected governor of Kansas in 2010. Previously, Brownback served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1994-1996) and the U.S. Senate (1996-2010), where he gained a reputation as one of Congress' leading social conservatives. An important promoter of the "war on terror" in the years after the 9/11 attacks, Brownback has supported a host of hardline "pro-Israel" policies and served on the executive committee of the right-wing Jerusalem Summit. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the GOP presidential nod in 2008.
During the 2012 presidential election campaign, Brownback was a supporter of Republican candidate Mitt Romney, as well as of his vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan (R-WI), who served as an aide to Brownback in the mid-1990s. Commenting on Romney's decision to pick Ryan, Brownback told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren in August 2012 that Ryan's controversial budget plan, which includes dramatically cutting social services, was "the only legitimate plan out there."
Brownback is primarily known for his leadership in advancing the domestic agenda of the religious right. However, he has also played a leading role in several foreign policy issues, in particular with respect to Iran and other "rogue nations." A staunch supporter of the George W. Bush administration's Mideast policies, Brownback nonetheless eventually opposed some Bush policies, including the Iraq troop "surge."
Describing his foreign policy priorities post-September 11, Brownback's Senate website once stated: "Since September 11, 2001, it is increasingly clear that national security must be at the forefront of our overall foreign policy. As we face the threat of terrorism, as well as threats by rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea, it is more important than ever that we have a coherent, strong, and wise foreign policy. As we continue to wage the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must look ahead to the prospect of these countries serving as models for freedom and democracy in an otherwise troubled region."
A key issue for Brownback has been Israel, about which he holds views closely in line with Christian Zionism. Along with noted neoconservative ideologue Daniel Pipes, Brownback has served on the presidium of the Jerusalem Summit, a now largely defunct Israel-based advocacy outfit that brought together evangelicals, neoconservatives, and hardline pro-Israel figures from across the globe in an effort to shape the debate over the status of Palestine, radical Islam, and other hot-button Mideast issues.
According to a Jerusalem Summit press release describing a speech Brownback made to Israel's Knesset in 2004, the senator "called for the immediate move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, supported Israel's right of self-defense in the face of Palestinian terror and warned of dangers posed in the region by U.S. military aid to Egypt. Senator Brownback also spoke at length about America's and Israel's shared democratic values and the rise of democracy around the world. 'There are only 46 non-democratic countries remaining in the world today, and we are on the path to making that zero,' the Republican leader stated."
Along with other hawkish Republicans like Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), former Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA), and former Sen. Rick Santorum, Brownback consistently targeted Iran in proposed legislation. In May 2006, for instance, Brownback introduced the Iran Human Rights Act, which he said would provide Iranians "with the tools and education to effect regime change from within."
His get-tough posture on Iran, as well as his Israel-centric vision of Mideast peace, won him friends among neoconservatives and other hawkish political factions. Lauding a July 2003 Brownback Senate amendment supporting democracy in Iran, former American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar Joshua Muravchik, speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, said: "This amendment is an important milestone in the relationship between the U.S. Congress and the people of Iran. It sends a message to the Iranian people that the American people are aware of their struggle to free themselves, and that we want to do what we can to help. The days of waiting for the Iranian regime to reform itself are over." At an AEI forum on Iran in 2006, the institute's Danielle Pletka introduced Brownback as "an activist" and "a true believer."
In addition to his initiatives on Iran, Brownback was also a lead author of bipartisan legislation on human rights in North Korea and with respect to international trafficking of women. For example, he coauthored the Trafficking in Victims Protection Act with the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN).
Although a frequent advocate of human rights, Brownback's support for war on terror and free-trade policies has at times seemed to take precedence over his concern about human rights. In a May 21, 2002 Senate statement, for example, Brownback advocated that permanent normal trade relations status be extended to Russia and the nations of Central Asia and the South Caucasus—many of which are gross violators of human rights. He recommended that language be included in such an act that would recognize "the considerable efforts the nations of Central Asia and the South Caucasus have made in assisting our antiterrorism efforts."
The politics of oil, too, have played a part in Brownback's calculus: "Russia owns immense fossil fuel reserves which could reduce our dependence on oil from the volatile Middle East." He added, "Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan are also valuable sources of oil. Kyrgyzstan has made impressive progress in making market reforms since its days as a Soviet Republic, which can provide fertile ground for American investment. Georgia is making significant progress toward market reforms."
Despite his hardline support for many Bush administration policies, Brownback at times demonstrated bipartisan foreign policy inclinations, which his Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) bio highlights: "Sen. Brownback (R-KS) has been a leading voice in Congress for U.S. action in Darfur. With [Barack] Obama, Brownback wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in December 2005 calling on the United States to 'help transform the African Union protection force into a sizable, effective multinational force.' He introduced the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act in 2005, which urged U.S. military intervention. In 2006, Brownback traveled to the region with Obama. Brownback cosponsored Biden's July 2007 resolution demanding the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to Darfur."
After the election of President Obama, Brownback continued to pursue many of his longstanding foreign policy priorities in the Senate, including pushing policies viewed by many as one-sidedly in favor of Israel. For instance, in November 2009, Brownback and a host of other "pro-Israel" Senators—including Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), David Vitter (R-LA), and Jim Bunning (R-KY)—introduced the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act, which proposed relocating the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In announcing the legislation, which would further antagonize Palestinian sentiment toward both Israel and the United States, Brownback said, "This week I spoke to the Jerusalem Conference about the need for introducing this important piece of legislation at a time when Israel faces so many existential threats. The city of Jerusalem has more than 3,000 years of historical, religious, and cultural significance for the Jewish people. Israel is a staunch democratic friend and ally of America and it is long overdue for America to recognize the sovereign right of Israel to choose Jerusalem as its capital city."
According to the National Journal's "Conservative on Foreign Policy" rankings, in 2005, Senator Brownback voted more conservatively on foreign policy issues than 74 percent of U.S. senators.
On domestic issues, Brownback is a standard-bearer for many key Christian Right causes, including abortion, stem cell research, cloning, and same-sex marriage. While in the Senate, he cosponsored the Human Cloning Prohibition Action, the Prenatally Diagnosed Conditions Act, and the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act. He also sponsored the Constitution Restoration Act, a bill that would have restricted the power of federal courts to rule on church/state issues. Endorsed in his presidential bid by Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition, Brownback "runs the weekly meetings of the Value Action Team, attended by representatives of 30 to 40 organizations, including the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, the Christian Coalition, the National Right to Life, Prison Fellowship, and the American Center for Law and Justice." Perhaps not surprising for a senator from Kansas, Brownback supported teaching intelligent design in public school science classes, using the "Teach the Controversy" approach.
However, Brownback broke with many Republicans on some domestic issues during the Bush administration, including immigration. He angered immigration restrictionists by voting for a bill that would create a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants living in the country. The restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies called him "Amnesty Sam" after his March 2006 decision to support the [John] McCain-[Ted] Kennedy immigration bill.
Brownback cites William Wilberforce as a major influence in his social activism. Like many others in the international Christian solidarity movement, Brownback sees his work as a 20th-century extension of the activism of Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian who as a member of the British parliament in the late 18th century and early 19th century led the fight to terminate the slave trade.
Brownback played an early role promoting the Christian solidarity movement on the Hill. Two of the early intellectual influences of this movement, which emerged in the late 1990s, were Michael Horowitz, a neoconservative at the Hudson Institute, and Nina Shea of Freedom House. In his November 2001 article on the Christian solidarity movement, Joshua Green wrote: "Horowitz enlisted Beltway heavyweights like Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and William Bennett, and appealed to members of Congress like Frank Wolf and Chris Smith in the House, and Arlen Specter and Sam Brownback in the Senate."
Brownback chaired a May 16, 2000 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on religious freedom, which included testimony from Shea and Iran-Contra veteran Elliott Abrams. "There has been a stunning shift in foreign policy in the last three years involving a recognition of religious liberty as a respected human right, equal to the freedoms of press, speech, or assembly," Brownback said. "This was not true, even a few years ago, when members of Congress and foreign affairs intelligentsia were reluctant to seriously entertain this topic. I am grieved by the suffering which results from embracing a minority faith in a hostile country. I think of the countless people in closed countries like China who may never hear a religious message that would comfort their souls in troubled times or give meaning to their lives. It may be fair to say, that of all the rights a country might steal from its people, religious freedom is the most intimate one."
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof once described Brownback as "the most intriguing man in Washington—wrong on so much and yet such a leader on humanitarian issues."
Brownback arrived in Washington in 1990 as a White House Fellow working under U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills during the George H.W. Bush administration. In 1994, he was elected to the House of Representatives as part of a wave of Republican victories that gave the GOP control of Congress.
Self-described as a member of the "hard core" that drove the party's anti-big government agenda, Brownback won the 1996 election for the Senate seat vacated by Bob Dole. He won a full term in 1998 and was reelected in 2004. After a failed presidential run in 2008, Brownback was elected governor of Kansas in 2010.