Brownback’s No-Win Situation

We’ve written several posts over the last few month about how Sen. Sam Brownback’s standing among the Religious Right has fallen due to his support of Katheleen Sebelius’ nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, leading many right-wing activists to distance themselves from him.

Today, Dave Weigel has a good piece in The Washington Independent noting how, despite seemingly no help from anyone in the Senate, the Religious Right has managed to make the vote on Sebelius’ nomination into a “controversy” all on its own:

The battle against Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-Kans.), President Obama’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, has gone better than many pro-life activists had hoped. Yes, it’s true that Sebelius is expected to be confirmed after an eight-hour debate and cloture vote are held in the Senate today. It’s also true that activists have not managed to dislodge the support of Sebelius’s home state senators, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, both Republicans — an embarrassing setback that has prevented the Sebelius nomination from becoming quite the abortion rights showdown that they had hoped for. But they can count some small victories.

“Going into this, there didn’t seem to be any opposition,” said Wendy Wright, the president of Conservative Women for America. “I was at her hearing, and that morning, I was reading news reports about how she was going to ’sail through’ the Senate. Now I’m reading reports about the ‘controversy’ around Kathleen Sebelius. You can attribute that to what the grassroots have done here.”

The vote on her nomination is scheduled for today and she is expected to be confirmed and conservative and Religious Right leaders are basically saying it is all Brownback’s fault:

Before that vote, the anti-Sebelius coalition will hold a press conference on the Hill making the case against her. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) will make public a letter of opposition to the nomination that, as of press time, eight other conservatives had signed. Still, opponents of the governor have been frustrated by the early and consistent support for Sebelius from Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), a social conservative who is retiring in 2010 to run for governor of Kansas.

“This nomination should be more unpopular than it is,” grumbled one GOP Senate aide. “Brownback’s hesitation and his months of holding off on substantive criticism of Sebelius has basically frozen the ability of pro-life senators to fight as hard as they would like to. It’s tough. It’s very difficult for the pro-life leader in the Senate to mobilize his allies when he’s moving in the other direction.”

Although recently Brownback has been hinting that he might be rethinking his support for Sebelius’ nomination, his explanation for supporting the nomination has been that installing her at HHS will get her out of the state and away from a possible run for Brownback’s open Senate seat in 2010 and that whomever heads HHS will be pro-choice, so it may as well be someone from Kansas.

Needless to say, right-wing activists aren’t buying his excuses, with one local activist saying its like justifying support of Hitler: 

“We’ll be extremely disappointed if Sen. Brownback doesn’t change his mind,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for FRC. “That will play a role in any of our future work with him.”

It’s all a bit much for Kansas activists to stomach. “Those guys in Washington don’t think like we do in Kansas,” said David Gittrich, the long-serving state development director of Kansans for Life. “It might be smart politically to get the governor out of Kansas, but it’s really hard for me to wish her on the nation. I’d rather have Hillary Clinton running health care than Kathleen Sebelius.”

According to Gittrich, when Brownback turns his sights on the governor’s race he’ll gave to “reestablish his credentials as a pro-lifer” and explain his vote. “All the pro-life votes in the world don’t make up for supporting Kathleen Sebelius,” said Gittrich. “This is like saying, ‘I’m against the Holocaust and Nazi Germany but I’d like Hitler to be in charge of the health care center.’”