The Rand Paul record: A collegial, canny presence in the U.S. Senate

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  • Rand Paul
    Rand Paul
    United States Senator from Kentucky
  • Ron Paul
    Ron Paul
    American politician and physician
  • Ted Cruz
    Ted Cruz
    United States Senator from Texas

Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 27. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

When Rand Paul announces Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., that he’s making a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, he’ll be the second U.S. senator to have formally thrown his hat into the ring this year.

Paul is likely to run as a rebellious outsider on the campaign trail as other candidates seize the mantle of the party establishment. But a look at his time in Congress shows that Paul can play the traditional political party game much better than most insurgents — and certainly better than Ted Cruz, another senator vying for the nomination and one with whom he has been frequently grouped on account of their outside-the-mainstream views.

Paul won his seat with the backing of the Bowling Green Tea Party, riding a wave of anti-establishment sentiment in 2010. Since then, however, he’s proved to be a surprisingly canny operator in Washington.

And that’s where it’s worth remembering that despite his anti-establishment positioning, Paul is actually a man who grew up deep inside the political arena: His father, former Texas representative Ron Paul, was a legislator who served nearly 40 years in the U.S. House and ran three unsuccessful bids for the presidency.

In just over four years in Washington, Paul has used the legislative levers of the U.S. Senate to promote his libertarian agenda, introducing more than 400 pieces of legislation and building politically expedient alliances with more-establishment members that other Senate outsiders have shunned. Paul has made more friends than enemies within Republican legislative circles, even when they disagree on the substance of policy, and forged a tight alliance with the senior senator from his state, now-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to help get his bills considered by the full Senate.

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Sen. Mitch McConnell gets a campaign assist from Rand Paul, left, just before the Nov. 4, 2014, election that gave McConnell the job of Senate majority leader. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Paul’s relationship with McConnell, about as politically symbiotic as it comes, shows a gift for deal-making that could help him during the all-important vote trading of the Iowa caucuses, where supporters of candidates who fail to garner enough momentum throw their votes to other contenders on a room-by-room basis, potentially scrambling election night turnout math.

During the leader’s 2014 re-election bid in their home state, McConnell needed Paul to provide conservative cover, and the two recognized almost immediately that there was a lot they could do for each other. Paul endorsed McConnell — and then the Republican leader went out of his way to negotiate with the then-majority Democrats to get the Senate to vote on legislation put forward by Paul.

The result of this play is that Paul has a significantly more expansive legislative record than Cruz or Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., when it comes to the number of measures each has sponsored that have come up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Like them, though, very few of his bills have become law. Only four measures he’s co-sponsored — the Pilot’s Bill of Rights in 2012, the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act and the Freedom to Fish Act in 2013 and the Sunscreen Innovation Act in 2014 — have been signed by the president into law.

Along the way, Paul’s efforts to put some daylight between himself and party leaders also have been less disruptive than Cruz’s. Paul never shut down the government over his ideals — he just called for amendment votes. Though this might alienate the most ideologically pure of GOP primary voters, it also could bode well for Paul’s chances with more moderate Republicans, whose support of the party fell to record lows during the Cruz and tea-party-led shutdown of October 2013.

As Yahoo News previously reported in reviewing Cruz’s record, in a do-nothing Congress, effective legislators must “find a vehicle” for their legislation, which means taking a bill that must pass each year, like a spending bill or a crucial program authorization — the vehicle — and using it as an opportunity to vote on mostly unrelated amendments in a bid to force them into law.

In this regard, Paul was a more active and more successful adopter of the legislative amendment strategy than Cruz has been so far. In his first two years in Congress, Paul sponsored 176 amendments — and he has pushed a total of 292 amendments in his just-over-four-year Senate career, according to statistics kept by the Library of Congress. Sixty-nine of those amendments were acted on by the Senate, meaning they either came up for votes or were adopted by consent. Cruz, for his part, has sponsored 107 amendments — 103 of them in his first two years. But only 13 of those amendments were acted upon by the Senate.

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Senator Rand Paul speaks during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on President Obama’s request for authorization to use force against Islamic State (IS) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 11, 2015.  (Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA) 

Both Cruz and Paul serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee and have focused significantly on judiciary issues. The committee has given them a platform to talk about issues that draw unique bipartisan support, such as bills trying to limit the government’s ability to collect data from American citizens or drug sentencing reform. Democrats enjoy partnering with Cruz and Paul on these issues because they are able to bring the attention of the conservative political base to a topic, which can spur more establishment Republicans to action.

Like Cruz, who once held a marathon session on the Senate floor to decry Obamacare, Paul has staged a filibuster of his own, in 2013. Paul’s 13-hour halt of Senate floor proceedings briefly delayed the president’s nomination of a new Central Intelligence Agency director, as Paul spoke out against the potential use of military drones against U.S. citizens.

Paul’s positions on the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees put him at the epicenter of foreign policy and domestic surveillance issues. Unlike 2007 and 2008, when five active senators were running for president but rarely used floor time, GOP candidates in 2015 have been much less shy for the CSPAN cameras, taking to the floor to debate Homeland Security funding, a pending nuclear deal with Iran and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Congress days before his own election.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker recently told Yahoo News that managing the different views and personalities among Republicans weighing in on international issues is difficult. Many senators look to leverage their foreign policy credentials to gain credibility against governors running for president as a counterbalance to their executive experience.

“It’s a great challenge. You know, people a year ago were asking me, ‘Corker, what is the Republican policy on [these issues]?” And I said, “Are you kidding me? I’ve got John McCain and Rand Paul and you’re asking me for the Republican position? … It does make it certainly a challenge, but it also makes it interesting. I think the Republican Party is very diverse on foreign policy right now, as is, I might add, the American electorate.”

Paul has not taken any official congressional trips internationally, but his office confirmed that he visited Israel and Jordan in 2013 and Guatemala in 2014. He plans to travel to Haiti this August.

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