Paul running hard on civil liberties after his Senate gambit
CHICAGO (AP) — He infuriated his Republican Party leaders by almost single-handedly delaying the extension of Bush-era security laws. Now, Sen. Rand Paul is fighting to transform his recent victory in Congress into momentum with the voters who will select the next president.
Tangling with a complicated issue that divides the public, the 2016 presidential candidate does not have an easy task. Yet he’s seized the opportunity in interviews across the U.S. this week before another showdown in Congress. And as he courts voters in three states, the 52-year-old from Kentucky is putting new distance between himself and the rest of his party’s presidential hopefuls.
Paul is in a crowded Republican field that could feature as many as two dozen candidates. Two other Republican senators have entered the race: Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is considered a possible front-runner. The party nominee will likely face former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Democratic Party nominee.
Paul has aggressively sought support from African-Americans as he crafts a unique coalition of younger voters and minorities.
He says the Republican reputation “sucks” in a book released this week that blames the party for letting its relationship with minorities “fray to the point that it is near beyond repair.”
“I think some of his ideas are a breath of fresh air,” said Corey Brooks, an African-American pastor in the South Side of Chicago, where Paul campaigned Wednesday. “His views are diametrically opposite of what Republicans tend to say and do, and I think it’s a good thing.”
Paul’s passionate defense of civil liberties remains the centerpiece of his platform.
He stood on the Senate floor for nearly 11 hours last week, bucking leaders in his own party, to protest the National Security Agency’s bulk collection program that monitors Americans’ phone records.
His delaying tactic forced Senate leaders to adjourn for the week with no resolution on the Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Parts of it are set to expire at midnight Sunday night.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has summoned the Senate to return for a rare Sunday session just hours before the deadline. Expiration would mean suspension of a program revealed by Edward Snowden that collects data on every American landline call, as well as of two FBI programs to track terrorist suspects.
Emboldened by last week’s stand, Paul this week launched a national tour with stops in Illinois, Iowa and South Carolina. His campaign also intensified its fundraising operation to help cash in on the attention. Even in the midst of last week’s Senate marathon session, Paul took to Twitter to invite supporters to buy $30 “Filibuster Starter Packs” with a bumper sticker, T-shirt and a “spy blocker” for Internet browsers. His campaign would not say how much money he’s raised from the confrontation in Congress.
In the meantime, he’s lashed out at leaders of his own party.
Appearing on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Paul charged that many Republicans have abandoned their small-government credo in the national security debate. He’s also blamed Republican national security hawks for the rise of the Islamic State militant group.
On government surveillance at least, it’s unclear how closely voters are following Paul’s efforts.
In a March 2014 Pew Research Center poll, just 19 percent of Americans said they were following “reports about the U.S. government’s phone and Internet surveillance programs” very closely, while more than half were not following closely.
Peoples reported from Washington.