In this Fox News Sunday Show With Chris Wallace: Sen. Rand Paul on top congressional issues; pivotal moment in the battle over gay marriage
WALLACE: And, hello again from Fox News in Washington.
Well, there’s no doubt about it. Rand Paul is on a roll. His 13-hour Senate filibuster on the president’s drone policy spurred new interest in who he is and what he stands for.
So where does he see all of this going?
Senator Paul joins us now from Bowling Green, Kentucky.
And, Senator, welcome back to “Fox News Sunday.”
PAUL: Good morning, Chris.
WALLACE: Ever since your filibuster earlier this month, your standing in the Republican Party has certainly shot up. As we’ve mentioned, you won the CPAC straw poll and made a major speech on immigration reform this week, and you’re going to headline an Iowa State Republican Dinner in May.
Why do you think — why do you think that you are suddenly such a hot property in the Republican Party?
PAUL: I think people are hungry for someone who will stand up on principle. You know, standing up on the right to trial by jury is something that really a lot of people should agree with, you know, both on the right and the left. And even some on the left were disappointed in the president by not being firm and clear, that everybody has a right to trial by jury, that we would never drone someone in America. And it was disappointing to many that he would not answer the question and it was like pulling teeth and took 13 hours of filibuster for him to finally to say, no we won’t kill noncombatants in America.
So, I think it was well worth it and it really served to narrow presidential power which I think is important, to draw our limits.
WALLACE: We’re going to get to the substance of the filibuster, a little bit later. But, does all of this attention now, does it increase your interest in and your sense of the feasibility of running for president in 2016?
PAUL: Well, you know, I’ve always said, I wanted to be part of the national debate. I think the Republican Party needs to figure out how to be bigger and I think I do bring some ideas to that. And so, I’ve talked with Republican National Committee, the Republican National Committee chairman about things we need to do to be competitive on the West Coast, to be competitive in New England and Illinois.
And I think some of those ideas are more libertarian-Republican approach to things, and I think that a lot of young people are attracted to that. And our party could grow if we accepted something maybe a little different than a cookie cutter conservatives that we’ve put out in the past.
WALLACE: So, to press my question — does this increase your interest in running for president? It sounds like the answer is yes.
PAUL: Well, I’m definitely being part of the debate. I think the country is suffering right now, with 12 million people out of work. So I want to be part of the answers to it. Whether or not that actually is me, specifically, running for president, I don’t know that yet.
But I know that I think the country is suffering with significant unemployment, stagnation. There is still question whether we are dipping into recession, at this point. And we need something new and the party needs something new to grow and I want to be part of that.
WALLACE: I want to pick up on that, because Republicans, right now, see you and Florida Senator Marco Rubio jockeying for position. At CPAC, you talked about your various ideas — and we’re going to get into them in a moment — for how to grow the party.
Senator Rubio also talked about it. Let’s look at what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, R – FL: We don’t need a new idea. There is an idea. The idea is called America. And it still works.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Question: is that enough? America still works?
PAUL: Well, I don’t think we need new principles. I think the principles we have, we need to be more explicit with. And, instead of, you know, working around and saying, oh, we want revenue-neutral tax reform, I think we need to stand up and say, we want to leave more money in the economy. We want to reduce taxes — that when Reagan did it, we had 7 percent growth in one year.
That’s the kind of I think bold leadership we need but it’s not a new principle. We don’t have to reinvent ourselves in that way, but we do have to stand on principle. And unless you really stand for something, people aren’t motivated to go out and vote for you.
WALLACE: Well, all right, let’s talk about what you stand about, immigration, because you came out with your ideas for a comprehensive plan this week, and since then, you are taking fire from both the right and the left.
You call your plan for creating a legal status. Not citizenship, but a legal status, for the 11 million folks who are already here, illegal immigrants who are here. But you’re taking fire from the right because you oppose the E-verify system which would make it easier for employers to check whether their workers are in fact legal or illegal.
Why would you oppose that?
PAUL: Well, that’s not the main part of my plan. The main part of my plan is trust but verify, that says we have to have border security. Conservatives have always wanted border security before we had immigration reform. The amendment that I will add to the bipartisan plan will ensure that there is border security and that Congress gets to vote on that border security every year, in order for it to go forward.
With regard to E-verify, it’s not that I’m opposed to some sort of database check. For example, when you come into the country, I think the country should do a background check on you to find out if you are a felon or if there’s a problem. I also think that that — those who come in and get a work visa should be in the database and that when someone applies for welfare, it should be mandatory that they look at that database to make sure you’re not here on work visa, which means you’re not eligible to vote and you’re not eligible to get welfare.
So I’m not against any kind of checking, I just would prefer the government to be the policeman and not the businessman. It’s kind of where it happens, whether it happens, businessmen who have expenses to do this or whether the government should do it.
WALLACE: Let’s talk about your idea which is important to you, that it should be Congress. According to the “gang of eight” plan, it would be governors and a commission. They would decide whether or not the border is secure. You want Congress to get into this. And there are some Republicans who say you’re setting up the GOP for a fall because it will be a vote in Congress, it will be very political. A lot of Republicans will say, “Well, gee, we’re not satisfied with border security.” And, that will only increase their sense of separation from Hispanic voters.
PAUL: I would argue the opposite. I would argue that you’re only going to get the conservatives, particularly a Republican House, to pass immigration reform, if we as conservatives are reassured that the border is controlled and that we get to vote on whether the border is controlled. We have not believed in the past that (AUDIO GAP) true.
In 1986, when we normalized folks, they said, oh, you’ll get border security — and a lot of people it never happened. That has soured the debate for some 20-odd years.
So, the only way you get this forward, I think my trust but verify actually will bring the House along. No immigration reform is going to happen unless Republicans in the House sign onto it. And I don’t think they’ll sign onto it unless you get something like what I’m talking about. And it would include governors as well, it would include border patrol and investigator general, and it would have a matrix of things such as how many people are being captured, how many people, felons are being turned away, that kind of thing and then Congress would vote on it.
The main reason I don’t want the president just to stamp it is I don’t really trust any president, Republican or Democrat, to do a good enough job to say the border is really secure. Every representative should get to vote on that.
WALLACE: You are, as you mentioned, a libertarian conservative. And in your CPAC speech, you embrace some of those principles. Let’s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: Our party is encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom, the new GOP we’ll need to embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Let’s talk about the personal sphere, because, you would like to relax some of the laws for people who possess and are smoking marijuana. And you also in the Senate have voted against, in fact, to ban — rather, against a ban on synthetic recreational drugs.
Why are you more lenient on drug laws, sir?
PAUL: The main thing I’ve said is not to legalize them but not to incarcerate people for extended periods of time. So, I’m working with Senator Leahy. We have a bill on mandatory minimums.
There are people in jail for 37, 50, 45 years for nonviolent crimes. And that’s a huge mistake. Or prisons are full of nonviolent criminals.
I don’t want to encourage people to do it. I think even marijuana is a bad thing to do. I think it takes away your incentive to work and show up and do the things that you should be doing. I don’t think it’s a good idea.
I don’t want to promote that but I also don’t want to put people in jail who make the mistake. There are a lot of young people who do this and then later on in their 20s, they grow up and get married and they quit doing things like this, I don’t want to put them in jail and ruin their lives.
Look, the last two presidents could conceivably have been put in jail for their drug use, and I really think, you know, look what would have happened, it would have ruined their lives. They got lucky, but a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don’t get lucky. They don’t have good attorneys, and they go to jail for these things and I think it’s a big mistake.
WALLACE: Actually, it would be the last three presidents, but who is counting?
Let me ask about a different issue.
PAUL: Yes, there you go.
WALLACE: The Supreme Court will hear arguments on same sex marriage this week. You say the federal government should stay out of this issue and leave it as it has been traditionally left to the states.
Should the court, therefore, strike done the Defense of Marriage Act, which is one of the cases that’s going to be hearing this week, which bans federal benefits, for same sex couples, who are legally married in their states? Would you strike down that as federal interference in a state matter?
PAUL: You know, I think it’s a really complicated issue. I’ve always said that the states have a right to decide. I do believe in traditional marriage, Kentucky has decided it, and I don’t think the federal government should tell us otherwise. There are states that have decided in the opposite fashion, and I don’t think the federal government should tell anybody or any state government how they should decide this. Marriage has been a state issue for hundreds and hundreds of years.
DOMA is complicated, though, because DOMA does provide protection for the states from the federal government. But, then, you’re right, part of it federalizes the issue.
I think there’s a chance the court could strike down the federalization part of it. If they do, I think the way to fix it is maybe to try to make all of our laws more neutral towards the issue, and, I don’t want the government promoting something I don’t believe in. But I also don’t mind if the government tries to be neutral on the issue. You know, the tax code, I’m for a flat income tax and we wouldn’t have marriage as part of the tax code. Health insurance, I think there is a way to write it where it would be neutral and you wouldn’t bring marriage into the whole idea of health insurance.
WALLACE: I want to go back to your filibuster, in which you argued against the president’s drone policy, especially, with regard to targeting of American citizens on American soil. After you would filibuster for 13 hours, you got this letter from Attorney General Holder, in which he wrote: “Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that, is no.”
Senator Paul, after your filibuster you said you were happy with that letter, but, in fact, doesn’t it leave a huge loophole because it seems to me, what Attorney General Holder is saying, just by implication, or — is that the president does have the authority to use the drone strike on an American on U.S. soil, who is involved in combat.
PAUL: Well, see, here’s the thing is, I have never argued against — if people are attacking the Twin Towers with planes, an imminent or active ongoing threat, I never argued you wouldn’t use drones or planes or F-16s to repel that kind of attack. The problem is, is that a lot of the drone attacks, are targeting killing overseas are killing people not actively engaged in combat. And that’s another debate.
But that standard cannot be used here. If you are accused of being associated with terrorism, which could mean you are an Arab- American and you’ve sent e-mails to a relative in the Middle East, you should get your day in court, and I think you should get a lawyer and a trial, and I think most Americans agree to that.
Is the — did the president completely slam the door on not using drones? No, I think there’s wiggle room in there, but we did force him to at least narrow what his power is and that was my goal.
WALLACE: Senator Paul as I was studying up for the interview and hearing you today, I’m having some difficulty figuring out exactly where you are on the political spectrum, because in some sense, you are to the left of Barack Obama when it comes to drones. On the other hand, you are to the right of Congressman Paul Ryan, whose budget you oppose, voted against this weekend, in the Senate, because you say that it doesn’t cut the budget — balance the budget fast enough.
Do you think there’s room for a realistic, feasible presidential candidate who is to the left of Obama on some issues and to the right of Paul Ryan, on other issues?
PAUL: I think we have a confusing spectrum, this left-right spectrum doesn’t always work for people but I think because of some of that confusion, it shows that someone like myself, I think, could appeal to young people, independents and moderates, because, many of them do think it’s a mistake to put people in jail for marijuana use and throw away the key. So, I think there are people who would like a less aggressive foreign policy. There are all kinds of issues that don’t neatly fit in the left-right paradigm that I think would help, because we’re not doing very well in a lot of these states, these purple and blue states. So, we do need a candidate that would appeal across the left-right paradigm.
WALLACE: Just briefly, we’ve got 30 seconds left, though. I think your budget which would balance the budget, your plan, would balance the budget in five years, Paul Ryan’s, which has come under attack for balancing it in 10 years, you’ve introduced it three consecutive years in the Senate, the most votes you got was this weekend when you got 18 of 100 senators. I mean, isn’t it out of the mainstream?
PAUL: Well, the thing is, I think the legislature is about 10 years behind the public. For example, I have introduced amendments to quit sending money to Egypt and build bridges here in the United States instead of in Egypt. And I bet you 90 percent of the American people agree with me but 80 percent of my senators disagree with me. So, I would argue the Senate is not up-to-date with what the people really want.
WALLACE: Senator Paul, we’re going to have to leave it there, thank you so much for joining us, and it’s always good to talk with you, sir.
PAUL: Thank you.
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