Rand Paul draws attacks for stance on Civil Rights Act
Rand Paul, the tea-party candidate who challenged the Republican establishment to win the party's Senate nomination in Kentucky on Tuesday, criticized a landmark civil-rights law Thursday, landing himself in a potentially damaging dispute over civil rights and race.
The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Rand Paul, the tea-party candidate who challenged the Republican establishment to win the party's Senate nomination in Kentucky on Tuesday, criticized a landmark civil-rights law Thursday, landing himself in a potentially damaging dispute over civil rights and race.
In doing so, he provided Democrats an opportunity to portray him as extreme and renewed concern among Republicans that his views made him vulnerable in a general election.
Paul, in a series of television and radio interviews, suggested that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was too broad and should not apply to private businesses, such as luncheonettes. As his statements drew attacks, Paul issued a statement declaring that he would not support repealing the landmark 1964 statute and blaming political opponents for trying to distort his views by saying he favored repeal.
"Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws," he said. Later, in a CNN interview, he said that if he had been in the Senate in 1964, he would have voted in favor of the act.
Ability to win
It was not clear that he had quelled rising concerns among Republicans about his ability to win in the general election, especially given his libertarian views in favor of limiting the role of government.
"I hope he can separate the theoretical and the interesting and the hypothetical questions that college students debate until 2 a.m. from the actual votes we have to cast based on real legislation here," said Sen. Jon Kyl, of Arizona, the Senate's No. 2 Republican.
Democrats mobilized to draw attention to what they cast as out-of-the-mainstream positions espoused by Paul — from raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 to questioning the legality of the Americans with Disabilities Act — as they sought to discredit what Jack Conway, the Democratic Senate candidate in Kentucky, described as Paul's "narrow and rigid philosophy."
The tea-party phenomenon has provided a bolt of energy for the Republican Party. But the case of Paul, 47, an eye surgeon, also shows the risks that have emerged as new figures move to the forefront of conservative politics, as candidates with little experience and sometimes unorthodox policy positions face the kind of scrutiny and pressure that could trip up even the most experienced politicians.
Paul said in an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC on Wednesday night that he supported the sections of the Civil Rights Act that applied to public accommodations but had concerns when it came to its applicability to private business; he raised similar concerns earlier about the Americans with Disabilities Act in an interview on National Public Radio.
Asked by Maddow if a private business had the right to refuse to serve black people, Paul replied, "Yes."
"I'm not in favor of any discrimination of any form," Paul continued. "I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But I think what's important about this debate is not written into any specific 'gotcha' on this, but asking the question: 'What about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?' "
He continued, "I don't want to be associated with those people, but I also don't want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that's one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn't mean we approve of it."
While those views reflect the libertarian philosophy that Paul and many tea-party members have embraced, they are politically treacherous for someone making an appeal to the electorate at large. Paul learned this as he struggled with questions about whether he thought the government had a role in regulating food safety and working conditions.
Congressional Republicans were peppered with questions about Paul's position on civil rights. "I just want to be on the record that I believe the Interstate Commerce Clause was properly used by the courts and the Congress to make sure that when you travel in this country you can't be denied food and lodging based on your race," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. "That is not a big heavy lift for me."
Paul's father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, angrily defended his son, saying he was being treated unfairly. "I think there's a lot of resentment because he became a star," said Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2008.
Democratic leaders have long said they viewed Paul as the weaker of the two major candidates in the Republican primary — the other was Trey Grayson, the secretary of state — because, they said, his views would not be embraced by the general electorate as they were by primary voters.
That view was shared by many establishment Republicans, as reflected by the fact that Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, did not support him in the primary. The seat Paul is running for is held by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, who is retiring, and the party can ill afford to lose it if it is to seriously challenge Democratic control in the fall.
After Paul clarified his position, McConnell distanced himself from Paul's earlier argument. "Among Sen. McConnell's most vivid memories and most formative events in his career was watching his boss Sen. John Sherman Cooper help pull together the votes to break the filibuster and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said in a written statement. "He has always considered the law a monumental achievement for the country and is glad to hear Dr. Paul supports it as well."
Paul also found himself on the defensive Thursday when he sought to justify his decision to hold his election-night celebration at a country club in Bowling Green, arguing that was not in any way at variance with the grass-roots movement he has come to epitomize.
"I think at one time, people used to think of golf and golf clubs and golf courses as being exclusive," Paul said on ABC's "Good Morning America," adding, "Tiger Woods has helped to broaden that, in the sense that he's brought golf to a lot of the cities and to city youth."
Rep. James Clyburn, the Democratic majority whip, who was active in the civil-rights movement during the 1960s, described Paul as "extreme." Clyburn said Paul's decision to hold his victory rally at a country club was a slap at his own supporters. "Who would have a victory party in a place where the minions who just voted for you ain't welcome?" he said.
"If we see someone like this get elected to the United States Senate, that will be the first step in my opinion to turning back the gains that we started making way back in the 1860s," he said.
Material from The Washington Post and The Associated Press is included in this report.
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