Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ran against the Washington establishment in 2010, but the tea party candidate is finding it doesn’t hurt his cause to work within the system.
The libertarian-minded conservative recently joined Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) to launch a consensus GOP jobs plan supported by the vast majority of the Senate minority. Paul volunteered for the job and then proceeded to sell the plan the old-fashioned way: through one-on-one conversations with fellow Republicans and by advocating for it in private caucuses. It’s a tack that belies his bomb-thrower reputation.
“I think he is working hard at becoming a legislator,” McCain said Tuesday. “He’s been very easy to deal with.”
Republican Senate aides describe Paul as energetic and say he has displayed a keen interest in legislating. Although Kentucky’s junior Senator remains a reliably conservative vote on policy, he is viewed as a good listener who has tried to build consensus behind his ideas.
GOP aides say Paul has prioritized learning the levers and traditions of the Senate, and he has channeled his efforts to affect policy in a manner deemed “constructive” and results-oriented by most Republicans.
That style led Paul to request a ride on Air Force One in September so he could talk with President Barack Obama about infrastructure spending — a meeting the commander in chief granted. Paul also sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asking to sit in on a Democratic caucus lunch to have an exchange of ideas. During a brief interview, Paul said his background as an ophthalmologist has shaped his approach to governing.
“I see things problem-oriented, solution-oriented,” Paul told Roll Call. “If you’ve got a disease of the eye and you need surgery, I want to fix it. That’s the same way I see it up here. And I guess I’m also new enough that I believe we can do anything — or that I can do anything, so I just jump in feet first.
“One of the fascinating things about being up here eight months is I already see that I’m a part of what’s going on and trying to effect change,” Paul added.
Last year, Paul won the Republican nomination for Senate in the Bluegrass State by defeating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) handpicked candidate in the primary. Paul and McConnell attempted to move past their differences, with the newly minted nominee accepting help from the Minority Leader in the general election.
But early on in Washington, D.C., Paul fulfilled expectations generated partly by his outsider campaign and partly by the image of his father, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), the libertarian-leaning Republican in the midst of his third run for president.
In the spring, Paul threatened to derail reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act by temporarily lodging a one-man filibuster against the bill. And Paul has repeatedly joined with a small band of conservatives to oppose major fiscal legislation such as the August deal to raise the debt ceiling, supporting less popular alternatives. Paul has offered his own austere budget and has attempted to force votes on several of his amendments, to the irritation of Democratic leaders.
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