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Sebelius supporter

Politics | Sen. Sam Brownback's backing of President Obama's pick for secretary of Health and Human Services concerns pro-life groups

WASHINGTON- Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., had a tough decision to make, and some pro-life organizations think he made the wrong one.

Brownback has one of the strongest pro-life records in the U.S. Senate, but he penned a letter supporting Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is a strong advocate for abortion rights, including late-term abortions, to become President Obama's secretary of Health and Human Services.

Sebelius is likely to be confirmed in the Senate, especially with the support of Brownback and Kansas' other Republican senator, Pat Roberts. The senators, while expressing their support, voiced caution on health care policies in a joint statement: "Obviously we will have different viewpoints than the administration on many issues, including health care reform, especially given the huge price tag."

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Pro-life groups have several complaints with Sebelius: She hosted a reception at her home for late-term abortionist George Tiller, who is currently on trial for performing illegal abortions, and she allegedly appointed an abortionist who had lost his license to a key state government position.

Her appointment to Obama's Cabinet is a backdoor victory for Republicans, even if it upsets pro-lifers. Brownback plans to vacate his seat in 2010 to run for governor of Kansas. Sebelius, a popular politician in the state, hinted that she would run for that Senate slot in 2010, but her appointment to the Cabinet means Republicans are much more likely to hold that seat. Reps. Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran are already in a battle for the GOP nomination.

The Senate is one seat short of giving Democrats the 60-vote majority they need to overcome a filibuster. In addition to Brownback, three other Republican senators will not seek reelection in 2010, but so far every Democrat plans to run again, meaning the thin influence Republicans hold in the chamber could disappear in the next election.

While Brownback's decision to back Sebelius may prove advantageous for Republicans in the Senate chamber, he frustrated some of his closest allies among Washington's pro-life groups, such as the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America. Tuesday, Brownback hosted his weekly "Values Action Team" meeting in one of the Senate office buildings, where pro-family groups gather to coordinate with legislators. A representative from the Family Research Council stood and told the senator they were withdrawing from the group because of his support of Sebelius.

But Concerned Women for America President Wendy Wright, while "disappointed" in Brownback's support of Sebelius, said the focus now should not be on Brownback but on preventing Sebelius' confirmation.

"I don't want this to be a Rush Limbaugh-Michael Steele," she said. "We are focused more on infighting and our opponents slip right by."

Their organization is pushing senators like Roberts to vote against Sebelius' confirmation, not just because of her record on the abortion issue, but also because she "doesn't have much of a record" on health care, Wright said.

Sen. Brownback's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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