Frank James (Jim) Sensenbrenner, Jr. (born June 14, 1943) is an American politician who has been a member of the Republican Party in the United States House of Representatives since 1979, representing Wisconsin's 5th congressional district. The district, the state's richest, includes many of Milwaukee's northern and western suburbs, and extends into rural Jefferson County. It was numbered as the 9th District until 2003. He has been a strong proponent of the Bush Administration's War on Terror.
He is the former Chairman of the House Science Committee and the former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; when the Republicans lost control of the House, he finished his six-year term as Chairman, and was not able to be chosen as the Judiciary Committee's ranking minority member (that honor went to Lamar S. Smith of Texas). He served as the Ranking Republican on the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming from 2007 to 2011, when Republicans abolished the committee after regaining control of the House.
Early life, education, and early political career
Sensenbrenner was born in Chicago, Illinois.
He was raised in Shorewood, Wisconsin, and attended the private Milwaukee Country Day School, from which he graduated in 1961. He matriculated at Stanford University and graduated with a B.A. in Political Science in 1965. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1968. Sensenbrenner served as staff assistant to California U.S. Congressman J. Arthur Younger and Wisconsin State Senator Jerris Leonard.
Sensenbrenner was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1968, the same year he graduated from law school. He was there until 1975, and in the Wisconsin State Senate from 1975 to early 1979.
U.S. House of Representatives
When 9th District Congressman Bob Kasten vacated his seat to run for governor in 1978, Sensenbrenner ran in the election to succeed him, defeating his primary opponent, Susan Engeleiter, by 589 votes with a plurality of 43%. He was elected in November 1978 with 61%, and has been reelected 16 more times with no substantive opposition, sometimes running unopposed.
His district was renumbered as the 5th after the 2000 census, when Wisconsin lost a district. He has never won re-election with less than 62% of the vote. In fact, his worst two re-elections were in 2004, when he defeated UW-Milwaukee professor Bryan Kennedy with 67% of the vote, and in 2006 defeated him in a rematch with 62%.
In 1998, Sensenbrenner had an important role in the impeachment of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, acting as one of the House managers.
Sensenbrenner introduced the USA PATRIOT Act to the House on October 23, 2001. Sensenbrenner did not write the USA PATRIOT Act; the primary author was Assistant Attorney General of the United States Viet Dinh.
In November 2004, Sensenbrenner and California Congressman Duncan Hunter objected to provisions of a bill that, among other things, created a Director of National Intelligence, a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.
In 2005, Sensenbrenner authored the Real ID Act, which requires additional scrutiny of citizenship before issuing drivers' licenses and set forth certain requirements for state driver's licenses to make it more difficult for terrorists and criminals to alter their identity by counterfeiting documents. He attached the controversial act as a rider on military spending bill HR418. Subsequently, it was passed by the Senate without debate. In March 2005, Sensenbrenner sided firmly with the parents and siblings in the Terri Schiavo case, who fought unsuccessfully in the federal courts to secure home care of their mentally-damaged daughter.
On June 17, 2005, Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, abruptly ended a meeting where Republicans and Democrats were supposed to be debating the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act and walked out in response to Democratic members raising issues regarding human rights violations at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay and the ongoing Iraq war. The Daily Show, comedian Jon Stewart said, "Oh my God, he literally took his gavel and went home; we are officially being governed by children."
He ordered the court reporter to halt transcriptions of the proceedings, C-SPAN cameras covering the meeting be shut off, and that discussion on the issue be halted. Sensenbrenner defended his actions by claiming that the Democrats and witnesses had repeatedly violated House rules in discussing issues he believed to be unrelated to the subject of the meeting. His abrupt walkout was contrary to House parliamentary procedure, which is to adjourn either on motion or without objection. Political journalist Matt Taibbi described the incident in a profile of the 109th Congress published around October 2006: "Last year, Sensenbrenner became apoplectic when Democrats who wanted to hold a hearing on the Patriot Act invoked a little-known rule that required him to let them have one. "Naturally, he scheduled it for something like 9 a.m. on a Friday when Congress wasn't in session, hoping that no one would show," recalls a Democratic staffer who attended the hearing. "But we got a pretty good turnout anyway." Sensenbrenner kept trying to gavel the hearing to a close, but Democrats again pointed to the rules, which said they had a certain amount of time to examine their witnesses. When they refused to stop the proceedings, the chairman did something unprecedented: He simply picked up his gavel and walked out. "He was like a kid at the playground," the staffer says. And just in case anyone missed the point, Sensenbrenner shut off the lights and cut the microphones on his way out of the room. Commenting on Sensenbrenner's actions on
Sensenbrenner was the main sponsor of H.R. 4437, a bill passed by the House in 2005 that would provide additional criminal penalties for aiding and abetting illegal immigration to the United States.
On September 8, 2005, Sensenbrenner voted against a bill to provide $50 billion in emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The bill passed and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
On December 16, 2005, Sensenbrenner introduced the Digital Transition Content Security Act. In 2006, it was reported that Sensenbrenner would help lead the effort to pass the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006, which is supported by large copyright holders and opposed by fair use activists.
Sensenbrenner receives high marks from the National Taxpayers Union, a non-profit organization that supports low taxes.
In 2006, Sensenbrenner joined with House Speaker Dennis Hastert in expressing outrage concerning the FBI raid of the congressional office of Democratic Representative William J. Jefferson, asserting constitutional concerns over separation of powers. He held Judiciary Committee hearings in May 2006 on this issue. Many Republican and conservative pundits, including Rush Limbaugh, took a dim view of this stance, and a June 1, 2006, ABC News poll found 86% of Americans supported the right of the FBI to search a congressional office when they obtain a warrant.
In fall 2006, The Animal Fighting Prohibition Act bill unanimously passed the Senate, but Sensenbrenner used his position to block final House consideration of the legislation, even though the bill had 324 co-sponsors. The act creates felony-level penalties for animal fighting activities. The Right to Life Act had hearings scheduled for December 12, 2006 at 10 am, but Sensenbrenner cancelled them right before the House adjourned on December 9 at 3:17am. The purpose of H.R. 552 is to "implement equal protection ... for the right to life of each born and preborn human person." In the 109th Congress, the legislation collected 101 cosponsors.
Sensenbrenner was the only Republican to join House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's Congressional delegation to meet the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India during the March 2008 protests against China by Tibetans. While there he said, "In the US Congress, there is no division between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of protecting Tibetan culture and eliminating repression against Tibetans around the world".
Sensenbrenner was named the 2006 "Man of the Year" by the conservative publication Human Events because of his opposition to open-borders immigration policies. In contrast, in the same year he was rated the second-worst member of the House by Rolling Stone, which dubbed him "the dictator".
In 2009, by a voice vote, the US Federal House approved H.R. 445, the Heavy Duty Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 2009, authored by Sensenbrenner.
Sensenbrenner, in spite of unanimous Congressional support, attempted to delay a bill in December 2010 that would have been benefited Hotaru Ferschke the Japanese born widow of a United States Marine killed in combat. Congressman John Duncan and other supporters of Ms. Ferschke were able to get the bill passed in spite of Sensenbrenner's objections.
Sensenbrenner believes in criminal prosecution of broadcasters and cable operators who violate decency standards as opposed to the current FCC regulatory methods.
- Michelle Obama incident
In December 2011, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Sensenbrenner referred to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “big butt” while talking to church members at a Christmas bazaar at St. Aidan's church in Hartford. Church member Ann Marsh-Meigs told the newspaper that she heard Sensenbrenner’s remarks. She said the congressman was speaking about the first lady’s efforts to combat childhood obesity, and added, “And look at her big butt.” On December 22, Sensenbrenner’s press secretary said Sensenbrenner had sent Obama a personal note and released a statement saying he regretted his “inappropriate comment.” Sensenbrenner’s office would not release the text of the note.
In 1977, Sensenbrenner married Cheryl Warren, daughter of former state attorney general and U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Warren. The couple has two sons, Frank (born 1981), and Bob (born 1984). When not in Washington, Sensenbrenner resides in Menomonee Falls. His family also owns a summer home on Pine Lake near Delafield.
Sensenbrenner has a net worth of about $11.6 million. He has put his money into stocks, as detailed in the Congressional Record. The Sunlight Foundation pointed out that among the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Sensenbrenner has the fourth-highest amount of investment in oil stocks.
In January 1998, Sensenbrenner won $250,000 on a D.C. Lottery ticket, purchased on December 18, 1997 at Congressional Liquors, the liquor store on Capitol Hill. He won $1,000 in the Wisconsin Lottery in the spring of 2007, and he won another $1,000 in that state's Super 2nd Chance lottery in September, 2007.
In August 2009, Sensenbrenner announced that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His doctor said the cancer was caught in the early stages when the cure rate is between 85-95 percent.
Sensenbrenner was the top-ranking House member in terms of travel costs paid by private interests from 2001 to mid-2005. In 2005, he reported more privately funded travel than any other member of Congress. Between January 2000 and July 2006, he took about $200,000 worth of privately funded travel.
March 20, 2012