SAN FRANCISCO — Rand Paul is riding high. He pocketed a straw poll win at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. He won another straw poll in New Hampshire. And, perhaps most significant, he tops the 2016 Republican field in an early CNN/ORC International poll.
“I don’t know whether it’s good luck or it’s bad luck,” the Kentucky Republican told National Journal. “It makes you more of a target, I guess.”
“I tell people it’s better than being last,” he joked in an interview in the lobby of the Olympic Club in downtown San Francisco. As he leaned back in his chair, his suit pants revealed more of his brown, cowboy-style leather boots. “It’s better than not being noticed.”
There is little chance of that. His growing political perch brings added attention and scrutiny to his every utterance.
Paul will use that presidential-sized platform on Wednesday to speak out at UC Berkeley against the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance practices. While in the Bay Area, he has a series of closed-door meetings, including with prospective donors.
The NSA is one of the issues Paul hopes to use to woo younger voters to the Republican fold in 2016 — one of his top political priorities. Paul said his goal is to send a message to students “that there are people in the Republican Party who do want to defend your privacy.”
“I think they, like me, don’t understand why the government would have access to their [phone] records,” Paul said.
Topping a national presidential poll is rarefied air for any politician, particularly a first-term senator. It’s a position of prominence that Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, never achieved in his multiple presidential bids. Not that the younger Paul is rubbing it in. “I haven’t talked to him yet,” he said. “I’ve been travelling.”
Establishment Republicans often dismissed the elder Paul as too far out of line with the GOP mainstream on foreign policy (among other issues) to ever be the party’s nominee. It’s a criticism that the younger Paul appears eager to tackle.
Paul took a veiled swipe at Sen. Ted Cruz — the other conservative seen atop the potential GOP 2016 field — in a sharply worded op-ed that accused rivals of wrongly wrapping their views in with Reagan’s legacy, and he suggested his non-interventionist policies are in the historical mainstream.
Paul attributed criticism of his positions to his recent political successes. “You become a target where people want to characterize who you are, and I’m not really content with letting others characterize who I am,” he said. “Because your opponents generally don’t characterize you in a favorable fashion.”
So how would Paul handle a newly aggressive Russia? The senator who joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year called Tuesday for trade sanctions against Moscow for its incursion into Crimea. “I think if Putin and Russia act like a rogue nation, they should be isolated,” Paul said.
But he would not say whether that meant stronger or greater sanctions than President Obama has proposed. “I don’t know if I can necessarily characterize it that way,” he said.
“What I would say is that Crimea gets 80 percent of their water, their electricity, and gas from the part of Ukraine that is above them. They’re at risk. [Putin] has a great deal of risk of losing electricity, gas, and water to the section that he’s annexed,” Paul said. He also would not say if that water and power should be shut off. “Ukraine has to make that decision,” he said.
Paul did say he believes Putin “miscalculates” his odds of success. The senator said that by taking the typically Russia-supporting Crimean voters of out the Ukrainian electorate Putin is actually “pushing Ukraine into the West, and so I think he’s cutting off his nose to spite his face.”
What We're Following See More »
"President Trump is expected to announce that Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci will be White House communications director, according to two sources familiar with the planning. Trump has left the role open since Mike Dubke resigned in May, and the President has vented frequently to his friends about the performance of his press operation." According to NBC News, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus are resisting the move.
"President Donald Trump's second-quarter job approval rating has fallen below what any other past president has gotten during the same time frame. A new Gallup poll found that Trump averaged a 38.8% rating between April 20 and July 19. The average approval rating for that time is 62%. President Obama was at the average during this time period, as was President Nixon. President Clinton is the only president who was below 50% by the second quarter, coming in with a 44% approval rating." There is also a large partisan gap. "Just 8% of Democrats approved of Trump's job performance during the second quarter, but 85% of Republicans did. Approval ratings have become increasingly polarized in recent administrations, but the 77-point gap for Trump is a new record."
"The US government will soon prohibit American citizens from traveling to North Korea, according to two tour groups that cater to Western tourists who want to visit the secretive country. The US will announce the ban within a couple of days, said Simon Cockerell, general manager of Beijing-based Koryo Tours. The agency was informed of the development by officials of the Swedish government, which represents America's interests in North Korea, he told CNN."
"Federal arts and humanities programs targeted for elimination by the Trump administration would get a lifeline from House appropriators willing to ignore the president’s proposal and keep them running. The $31.5 billion fiscal 2018 Interior-Environment spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday includes $145 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. While that’s still a 3.2 percent cut from the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, it is more than $116 million above Trump’s budget request. The National Endowment for the Humanities would receive $145 million in fiscal 2018, which is $103.7 million above the White House budget request."
"The White House’s Office of Management and Budget detailed Thursday how it would jettison hundreds of existing or planned regulations as part of its larger push to ease federal restrictions on the private sector, upending federal policies on labor, the environment and public health. ... The Trump administration said it was pulling or suspending 860 pending regulations."