Republicans Pressed About Paul’s Views

Posted May 23, 2010 at 12:46pm

Rand Paul may have canceled his Sunday appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to avoid further talk of the Kentucky Republican’s controversial statements on civil rights, but that didn’t prevent other Republicans from having to field questions on whether Paul’s views are appropriate for a Senate candidate.

Meanwhile, Democratic guests were forced to answer for statements made by one of their own candidates on the campaign trail.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) did their best to distance themselves from Paul’s view that the federal government, under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, should not have prohibited private businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of race, but their defense of him was at best lukewarm.

Steele, who appeared on both “Fox News Sunday” and ABC’s “This Week,” refused to condemn Paul’s statements. But he professed to be “uncomfortable” with them and tried to beat back any insinuations that Paul’s beliefs represent those of the entire GOP.

“Our party has always had a strong view on this issue. We fought very hard in the ’60s to get the civil rights bill passed,” Steele said on ABC. “So I think that any look backward is certainly not in the best interests of our country and certainly not in the best interest of the party. … So I’ve talked to Rand, and he and I are on the same page.”

He added, “Rand Paul as a United States Senator will be four-square with the Republican Party in lock step with moving forward on civil rights.”

Asked whether he would condemn Paul’s statements, Steele said: “I can’t condemn a person’s view. … The people of Kentucky will judge whether that’s a view that they would like to send to the Senate.”

Other Republicans tried to blame Paul’s statements on his inexperience as a candidate.

“You see novice candidates occasionally stumble on questions,” Cornyn said on “Meet the Press,” adding that Paul had “done the right thing” by not appearing on the program.

Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) also described Paul as a political rookie, and he said he could support Paul’s candidacy going forward.

“Even a very good baseball player has a hard time going from Triple-A to major leagues,” Alexander said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

But he noted that Paul made a mistake in his comments. “He made a mistake on that, at least I think he did,” Alexander said.

Paul had been a scheduled guest on “Meet the Press,” but host David Gregory said Paul’s spokesman had provided a statement this weekend saying the embattled candidate “wanted to avoid the liberal bias of the media.”

That was a theme Palin picked up on in an appearance on Fox News.

She said it was Paul’s mistake to “assume that you can engage in hypothetical impacts of constitutional issues” with reporters, adding that journalists are “looking for that ‘gotcha’ moment.”

The Republicans asserted that Paul has adequately clarified that he opposes racial discrimination and supports the Civil Rights Act. But Democrats said Paul’s statements on civil rights were just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what they described as his extreme views.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine noted that Paul also has questioned the legitimacy of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, supports ending farm subsidies, and has questioned the wisdom of mine safety regulations.

Democrats Defend Blumenthal

Meanwhile, Democrats were not immune from tough questions about Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who was criticized last week for making misleading statements about his military service in the Vietnam era. Blumenthal, who is the favorite to replace Sen. Chris Dodd (D), had indicated in speeches that he served in Vietnam, when in fact he served stateside in the Marine Reserves in the 1970s.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) defended Blumenthal, saying he still has the backing of veterans. Kaine said Blumenthal’s actions were unfortunate, but that he ultimately clarified and apologized for his misstatements.

“Those statements were wrong,” Kaine said on Fox News. “It was very important for him to acknowledge that and clear that up.”

Cornyn argued that Blumenthal has “damaged his reputation” in the state.

“It’s as if he shot himself in one foot and then reloaded and shot himself in the other foot,” he said.

Melanie Starkey contributed to this report.