Sen. Rand Paul likes large microphones, Henry David Thoreau, and Grover Cleveland. He also wants black and brown people to like him. The Kentucky Republican and potential GOP candidate for president chatted with reporters over scrambled eggs and sausage at a breakfast event hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday. Here is what we learned:
He likes being talked about as a presidential candidate. Paul was honest about enjoying that his name is being floated in the 2016 presidential sweepstakes—because it enhances his influence. “I want to be part of the national debate, whether I run or not,” he said. And all the 2016 chatter in 2013 is giving him a “larger microphone” for the issues he cares about.
He’s not afraid of Social Security and Medicare. It took Paul less than five minutes to outline an entire restructuring of the American entitlement system. He wants to raise the age for beneficiaries of two of the country’s most popular programs and use “means testing” so they are only consumed by the less well-off.
He’s sensitive—especially to media criticism. Paul repeatedly complained about press coverage of his recent visit to Howard University, a historically black college, saying the “left-wing media” had it out for him and was nitpicking his mistakes and missteps. There was a certain boldness to Paul’s decision to launch his complaints in a room full of reporters.
Howard was just the beginning. Paul said he planned to continue to reach out to African-American and Hispanic communities. “There is a perception Republicans don’t like people of color. They don’t like black people, brown people, or people of different-colored skin. It’s not true,” Paul said. “But that’s the perception that we have to overcome and the only way we overcome that I think is by showing up and saying over and over again it is not true.”
Henry David Thoreau is a mentor; Mitch McConnell not so much. Asked about whether Kentucky’s senior senator is a mentor, Paul answered with an instant classic: “Thoreau is a mentor.” He went on to say he’s backing McConnell’s reelection and that they have a fine personal relationship. McConnell backed Paul’s primary opponent in 2010, but Paul said, “I don’t think he ever personally disliked me.”
He’s open to comprehensive immigration reform—on his terms. Paul counted himself as among the Republicans who “will vote for immigration reform if they are assured and reassured the border is secure.” He also said any plan must include “no new pathway to citizenship”—as in, those here illegally now must not be on a different track for citizenship than those still waiting “in Mexico City,” he said.
He says Obama has used gun victims’ families “as props.” Only hours before the Senate planned to take up a series of critical gun votes, Paul had harsh words for President Obama’s use of victims of gun violence to make the case for new gun laws. “I think in some cases the president has used them as props,” he said.
He wants more guns in schools. Paul said attackers have targeted gun-free zones and that teachers should be allowed concealed-carry permits. He called for more guns in schools, including arming principals. “Ultimately, that’s the only thing I know of that might have saved any lives in that situation,” he said.
He’s a Grover Cleveland fan. Who knew? Paul named Cleveland, the late 19th century politician, as one of the Democratic presidents he most admired, calling him someone who was a populist, fought the special interests, and vetoed lots of bills.
Everything in Washington is too big. Paul said one of the problems on Capitol Hill is everyone is seeking out the grand bargain and not doing the little stuff that is noncontroversial, instead holding those items hostage as “sweeteners” for the illusive big deal. “All the stuff we agree on we don’t pass,” he said.
He may still sign fundraising letters for controversial outside groups. There was recently a heated GOP caucus meeting in which Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, complained that Paul was raising money for a gun-rights group that was attacking her. She said her loss in a primary could cost the GOP her seat. Paul wasn’t very apologetic Wednesday and said he hadn’t decided whether or not he’d keep lending his name to such groups. “I haven’t come to a conclusion or thought that through yet,” he said.