Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback said yesterday he no longer supports the immigration overhaul bill that he helped pass in the Senate.

“I would not vote for the same bill,” Mr. Brownback told reporters yesterday morning, saying that after the bill passed the Senate he had a chance to study its effects and decided it led to too much immigration.

It’s a major reversal for a man who is listed as one of seven original sponsors of the bill, along with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who spearheaded the bill.

“What we got through was what we could get through the Senate and move the process forward,” Mr. Brownback said in explaining his vote. “There are things in it that I don’t think are good within that.”

He said the bill would lead to too much “chain migration,” allowing immigrants to sponsor family members to join them in the United States. Mr. Brownback said he supports sponsorship of spouses and children, but that thinks siblings should be excluded.

The immigration issue has Republicans spinning, particularly those running for president, as they try to match their rhetoric to the beliefs of conservative primary voters.

It’s a particularly difficult issue for Mr. Brownback and Mr. McCain, who have been asked repeatedly about their positions on the campaign trail and who have distanced themselves from their own bill.

Mr. Brownback, speaking at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, did not specify what changed to turn him against the bill, but his Senate office spokesman, Brian Hart, said the situation is different this year.

“The congressional landscape has changed with no Republican-led House conference as a backstop, and the provisions of the bill that the senator did not care for would not likely improve after a bill was passed by a Democrat Senate,” Mr. Hart said.

Mr. Brownback refused to take a position on whether to rescind “birthright citizenship,” which allows automatic citizenship to children born in the United States, even if their parents are illegal aliens.

Mr. Brownback said he is not willing to say whether he supports rescinding what he calls the “anchor baby proposal” because he thinks it is protected by the Constitution and can’t be changed by law. Still, he acknowledged “a fudge” on the issue, saying he would still look at proposals.

Mr. Brownback, in his second full term as senator from Kansas, has had difficulty gaining traction in the crowded Republican field.

“This will take time, but it will happen over a period of time,” Mr. Brownback said, adding that he is putting organizations in place in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. “It’s not a national race where it starts out. It starts out in three states where it’s a retail politics race.”

In a recent breakfast with reporters, three social conservative leaders questioned Mr. Brownback’s presidential candidacy and were looking for a new champion: former Sen. Fred Thompson.

Mr. Brownback, though, said to give him time: “Hold the fire. This is way early.”

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