Cover Story

Penn station

"Penn station" Continued...

Issue: "Rick Santorum: Penn Station," April 30, 2005

At 10:14 the senator slipped into his seat on the dais in a committee hearing room; he offered a few sentences about the good work nonprofit organizations are doing and slipped out at 10:26 for a meeting of the eight members of the GOP Senate leadership team in Majority Leader Bill Frist's office-no reporters allowed. Afterwards he said the GOP leaders discussed big issues of the week-Social Security, judicial appointments, immigration-along with nuts-and-bolts aspects of bills on the floor and problematic amendments likely to be offered.

(The hardest nut to crack philosophically is immigration, and Sen. Santorum admits that he's torn on the subject: "I'm the son of an immigrant [from Italy], so I have some sense of that . . . we should increase the number who can come legally . . . we have to deal with national security concerns." He recognizes the impact that abortion has had in reducing the young population of the United States, and says, "It's hard to grow the economy with a shrinking number of people"-and immigration makes up for that gap.)

When the meeting ended at 11:53 he walked back to his own office and after 10 seconds asked his scheduler, "OK, where am I off to now?" One minute later he was listening to constituents hoping to sell food to the Department of Defense and wanting their senator's help in landing a contract. He asked, "What do you need? A letter of support?"

The response was immediate: "A strong letter of support."

He asked, "How much will this save the government?" and, after some numbers were thrown around, he responded, "OK, we'll see what we can do."

Ba-da-dum, time to move to another conference room and another topic: How about allowing more sales of Pennsylvania agricultural products to Cuba?

His response: "I'm not a big fan of that. . . . You're propping up a government that's hostile and spreading its hostility."

Ba-da-dum, but what about attaining "fair trade" through establishing more tariffs to protect Pennsylvania farmers?

Mr. Santorum replied, "You make it fair by having free trade in the region. That's free and fair." And he still could not get away: "Any chance to do a fundraiser in September in Lancaster?" Noncommittal response.

Next up were seven graduate students from Pennsylvania asking why Pennsylvania lags in business growth. The senator responded, "We have very high rates of taxation . . . a legal and regulatory climate that's very unfriendly . . . education needs to be improved."

To a question about the purpose of the federal government, Mr. Santorum replied, "Read the preamble to the Constitution. Provide for the common defense. That's first and foremost. Promote the general welfare: Government's job isn't to do it, but to create an environment in which others can work for the common good."

Ba-da-dum, ready to go, but 20 more graduate students suddenly crowded into the room and asked Sen. Santorum about his strong opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. He tried to take them back to basics: "The founders knew that when liberty is reduced to the issue of choice, it's reduced to license, and ultimately there's chaos." He moved his hands back and forth like trees blowing in a gale. "If you just do what you want to do, you're ultimately going to hurt other people. . . . Anything you do, you're imposing your moral code. . . . To suggest that the freedom to have an abortion is not imposing a worldview is laughable."

Ba-da-dum, and he was outside the conference room asking his scheduler, "Where am I supposed to go?"

At 12:36 he was late for a nine-year-old prayer-and-accountability group meeting at Trent Lott's office with three other senators. The issues discussed are "very personal . . . we try to keep politics out." But in the corridor the graduate students wanted a photo of him with all of them, and after a few seconds of milling about-how to fit in everyone-the senator took charge: "Let's have five guys in front take a knee . . . tall ones in back."

That done, Mr. Santorum raced off to prayer and then a policy lunch with all the Republican senators and a few senior staff members in the Mansfield Room of the Capitol. There politics was most definitely in and Social Security the entree. At 2:15 he patiently answered "stakeout" questions in the corridor before three television cameras, five microphones, 10 print reporters, and bright lights that contributed to a sheen of sweat on strands of hair curling behind the senator's ears.


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