The moment Rand Paul has been waiting for – By MANU RAJU 5/30/15 4:31 PM EDT

He plans to force the expiration of a surveillance law he’s been railing against for years — but the political risks are enormous.



Hours before the Senate’s PATRIOT Act standoff hit its peak this month, Republican leaders thought they had Rand Paul figured out. He would object, rail on the matter on the Senate floor — and then let at least a temporary extension through.

“I don’t agree with Sen. Paul on this issue, but I think he’s been a constructive guy,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said just before the week-long recess.

A day later with the clock past midnight and the Senate in a standstill largely because of Paul’s objections, Cornyn wasn’t nearly as generous.

“I’m a little surprised,” a perplexed Cornyn said. “Sen. Paul is asking for something that nobody will agree to.”

Paul’s handling of the PATRIOT Act issue has caught many of his GOP colleagues by surprise — and he now plans to drag the fight days past a midnight Sunday deadline, forcing the sweeping surveillance law to expire. Despite repeated cajoling by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the Memorial Day recess, Paul plans to block his fellow Kentuckian’s efforts to expedite debate, he told POLITICO Saturday.

“Let me be clear: I acknowledge the need for a robust intelligence agency and for a vigilant national security. I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies,” Paul said in a statement. “But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them. In fact, we must not. There has to be another way. We must find it together. So tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program.”

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2016 brawl breaks out on Senate floor

Paul lashes Cruz, Rubio for ‘dangerous’ and ‘reckless’ positions on government spending.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, center, accompanied by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, right, express their frustration after the Senate passed a bill to fund the government, but stripped it of the defund

The 2016 Republican nomination contest spilled onto the Senate floor Thursday, turning a marathon budget debate into a battle over which candidate is prepared to lead the country at a time of war.

Four GOP senators are trying to gain the upper hand on the commander-in-chief test — Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham — and their competition was on vivid display as the Senate took up a Rubio plan to pump tens of billions of dollars more into the Pentagon budget. Paul blasted the idea because the new spending wasn’t offset by other cuts. And caught in the middle was Cruz, who’s pitching himself as a fiscal conservative who can appeal to the hawkish and libertarian wings of the GOP but ultimately sided with Rubio and Graham.

In an interview with POLITICO, Paul lambasted his foes for engaging in “reckless” and “irresponsible” behavior, showing that they lacked the “courage” and conviction to rein in the country’s mountain of debt. He said there are now two camps in the GOP primary field: one that cares about the debt, and another that does not.

“I think there are a great deal of problems for people who want to argue that they are fiscal conservatives and yet would simply borrow hundreds of billions of dollars for defense,” Paul said. “I think it is irresponsible and dangerous to the country to borrow so much money to add into defense.”

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Rand Paul: Foreign donations to Clinton Foundation ‘thinly veiled bribes’ – By Mike Allen 3/20/15 2:55 PM EDT Updated 3/20/15 4:36 PM EDT

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to students during a discussion on criminal justice reform at Bowie State University, in Bowie, Md., Friday, March 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

AP Photo

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told POLITICO on Friday that foreign contributions to the Clinton Foundation are “thinly veiled bribes,” and said Hillary Clinton should return any donations from Saudi Arabia or other countries that abuse the rights of women.

“The normal Clinton response is to cover up, deny, refuse to acknowledge,” Paul said in a telephone interview as he was being driven through New Hampshire. “But the question is whether the country will rise up and respond to the unseemly nature of accepting foreign donations. “

Paul said that in addition to Saudi Arabia, the foundation should return donations from the United Arab Emirates and Brunei.

“In countries that stone people to death for adultery and imprison people for adultery, this is the kind of thing you would think someone for women’s rights would be standing up against, instead of accepting thinly veiled bribes,” the senator added.

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Paul takes CPAC straw poll gold; Walker surges to second place – By Jonathan EasleyFebruary 28, 2015, 05:19 pm

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won his third consecutive straw poll victory at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday.

But it was Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) who surged the most, coming in a close second with 21.4 percent behind Paul’s 25.7 percent among the field of 17 potential GOP contenders.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took third with 11.5 percent, followed by Dr. Ben Carson at 11.4 percent, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 8.3 percent. All of the other candidates pulled less than 5 percent.

The annual straw poll at the CPAC conference is hardly scientific, measuring hardcore activists and attendees. It has typically not been predicatave of the eventual nominee, especially so early out, but it does signal who is rising and who is dropping with the conservative base.

Paul, long the favorite of the libertarian-leaning event, thrilled conservatives on Thursday with a sermon-style speech on small-government and liberty.

“It’s time for a new president,” Paul declared, eliciting chants of “President Paul!” from the conference goers.

That chant erupted again inside the Potomac Ballroom at the Gaylord National Convention Center when news broke that Paul had won the straw poll for the third consecutive year.

“I am humbled by the enthusiastic support and encouragement I received this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference,” Paul said in a statement. “Our party is filled with constitutional conservatives who have chosen to stand with me for a third consecutive straw poll victory…I plan on doing my part and I hope you will join me as I continue to make the GOP a bigger, better and bolder party.”

The Kentucky senator is the perennial favorite at the grassroots conference, and he was well represented once again by young voters who traveled in from across the country to show support and an organization effort by his team.

More than 3,007 conference-goers voted in the poll.

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How Rand Paul trolls his rivals – By KATIE GLUECK 2/5/15 5:36 AM EST

Behind the Republican’s effort to be the first true Twitter candidate for the White House.““““`

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., holds his phone while speaking before the Berkeley Forum, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Rand Paul has the most aggressive feed of the 2016 field, an account that emits a steady stream of snark, rapid response and gimmicks. A recent sampling: He’s suggested Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are conspiring, charged that Marco Rubio wants to “build a moat” around Cuba and joked that Bush and Mitt Romney have exchanged friendship and charm bracelets.

Paul doesn’t write the tweets himself: Roughly a half-dozen staffers have access to the account, and they post without getting sign-off from the the senator, according to Doug Stafford, Paul’s senior political adviser. But he is deeply involved with his Twitter feed, driven by the sense that he wants to be a different kind of Republican candidate who reaches out to new constituencies — and he sees social media as key part of that engagement.

It’s all part of a broader strategy to run a tech-savvy, “crowd-sourced” presidential campaign, where online communication is the first messaging priority and edginess is essential to cut through the clutter.

Paul frequently fires off emails to his staff with concepts for tweets and social media pushes, and sometimes offers specifics.

“He and this organization will continue to be engaging, continue to be creative, continue to use digital almost as a first place of communication, because that’s the world we live in,” said Vincent Harris, the chief digital strategist of RANDPAC, Paul’s political arm. The senator “himself believes that content online needs to be unique, needs to be delivered not in long, paragraph form, but in pithy, visual memes and images and games. And if you look at the type of content the senator’s organization has been pushing out over the last two months, you see that’s reflected.”

Paul leads most of his Republican rivals in Twitter followers, with the exception of Sen. Marco Rubio, who started tweeting two years before Paul did. But Paul is the most prolific, delivering daily, sometimes hourly missives. So far this year, he has posted around 250 tweets (including retweets), eclipsing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Ted Cruz Cruz (around 200 each) as well as Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (about 40 tweets each). By that same measure, Hillary Clinton has tweeted only eight times this year — but she has close to 3 million followers, trouncing all of the Republicans.

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Kentucky Makes It Almost Impossible for Felons to Vote. Rand Paul Wants to Change That. —By Sam Brodey | Wed Jan. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Can Rand Paul turn ex-cons into ex-libs?

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Sen. Rand Paul began the new year by lobbying for one of his favorite causes: criminal-justice reform. Last week, Paul issued a press release urging the Kentucky Legislature to act on a bill that would let state voters decide whether or not to create a path back to voting rights for nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences. “Restoring voting rights for those who have repaid their debt to society is simply the right thing to do,” Paul said in the release.

In 2014, the Democratic-controlled Kentucky House approved a bill that would put a constitutional amendment on ballots in the fall—if voters approved the measure, it would have automatically restored the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have served their time. But the Republican-controlled Senate passed a substitute that proposed several tough restrictions, including a mandatory five-year waiting period after prison before felons could reapply to vote. The two chambers couldn’t agree, and the issue has stalled. Paul, who favors the less-restrictive House bill, is trying to give the issue CPR. (His office declined to comment for this article.)

Kentucky has some of the harshest restrictions on felon voting rights in the country: Felons who wish to get their voting rights back—regardless of offense—must submit a request directly to the governor, who has the sole authority to approve or deny them. Most states offer some type of path to reenfranchisement. For example, in Washington state, all felons who have completed their sentences, probation, and/or parole are allowed to reregister to vote.

According Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a political, social, and economic advocacy group, only three states—Florida, Iowa, and Virginia—have paths to reenfranchisement that are as difficult as Kentucky’s. In a state with roughly 3.1 million registered voters, more than 180,000 Kentucky ex-felonsdo not have the right to vote, and they come overwhelmingly from low-income and minority communities. Not surprisingly, studies have found that felony disenfranchisement disproportionately benefits Republicans.

This isn’t the first time that Paul has pushed to ease restrictions on felons’ voting rights. In 2013, speaking to a predominantly minority audience in Kentucky, Paul said, “I am in favor of letting [felons] get their rights back, the right to vote…Second Amendment rights, all your rights to come back.” This was not an especially popular stance within the GOP back then. A year earlier, Rick Santorum attacked Mitt Romney over his opposition to felon enfranchisement.

Stephen Voss, a state politics expert at the University of Kentucky, says he doesn’t think Paul holds enough sway in Kentucky to move reform through the statehouse. But with this issue, Paul has the chance to bolster his unorthodox approach to criminal-justice policy ahead of the 2016 primaries. “Paul is very interested in expanding the Republican coalition to include voters that have been difficult to reach in the past, but he clearly wants to do it within the bounds of small government ideology,” Voss says. “This issue of treatment of people who have served out sentences is a prime opportunity.”

Enfranchising felons may not be good for GOP electoral prospects, but Paul might not be alone among Republican 2016 contenders in the reform camp. Jeb Bush restored voting rights for over 150,000 ex-felons while governor of Florida, and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill in 2008 making it easier for Louisiana felons to earn their voting rights back. “If Paul gets in trouble with Republicans, I doubt it’ll be on this issue,” Voss says. He suggests other Republicans might join Paul in what he calls a viable way of improving the GOP’s perception among minorities. “It’s not a small number of Republicans that appreciate the benefit of expanding their constituency.”

Kentucky black leaders v. Rand Paul – By KATIE GLUECK 12/5/14 5:32 AM EST

Did outreach begin only after his presidential prospects bloomed?

Sen. Rand Paul is shown. | Getty

Over the past year-and-a-half, Sen. Rand Paul has spoken at historically black colleges, gathered with African American leaders in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown, and criticized a justice system he says unfairly targets minorities. His message is unmistakable: I’m a different kind of Republican who’s not afraid to engage with communities that typically vote for Democrats.

Yet in 2010, when he was a long-shot tea party candidate for Senate, and during his first two years in the job, Paul was rarely seen or heard from in Kentucky’s African American community, according to interviews with more than a dozen black leaders in the Bluegrass State, including seven of the eight African American state legislators. Indeed, his much-publicized courtship has occurred almost entirely as the Republican began plotting a potential run for president.

The officials, almost all Democrats, largely agreed that Paul deserves credit for spending time in minority communities and addressing issues that haven’t been high on the GOP’s priority list. But many were skeptical that Paul is acting out of long-held beliefs about racial injustice, given his earlier absence and his controversial 2010 remarks questioning whether the Civil Rights Act should apply to private businesses, which he’s sought to surmount ever since.

(Also on POLITICO: Boehner open to hearings on Garner’s death)

“I see Sen. Paul as really being an opportunist here,” said Democratic state Sen. Reggie Thomas. “His actions over the last couple years, now that he wants to run for president, really belie his feelings he’s expressed.”

“For him or anyone else to think he can show up in our community, smile, shake a few hands, take a few pictures, and that represents something significant in terms of him conveying a message that answers the questions or addresses the issues we are concerned about,” added state Rep. Reginald Meeks of Louisville, “to me that’s being pretty callous and pretty shallow.”

Aside from attending Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations, dispatching field representatives from time to time and working with a tea party-affiliated African American pastor, Paul barely registered in Kentucky’s black communities during his first few years in office, according to the interviews.

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