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Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky says he’ll vote against the immigration bill now in the Senate.
He also comments on Edward Snowden and government surveillance; the recent rulings from the Supreme Court on gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act; and whether he’s planning to run for president.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson: We’re talking with Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul who joins us here, Welcome.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul: Good Morning
Hobson: Good to have you here. And let me start with immigration. You said you are going to be voting against this bill. Why?
Paul: You know, I’m for immigration reform. I think the system’s horribly broken and we need to do something about it. But I’ve always said that I think we need to secure the border first, and that Congress needs to decide when the border’s secure, not the president. So I had an amendment last week, “Trust but Verify” that I introduced, and in that amendment Congress would vote every year on whether the border was secure, and the process of immigration reform would be dependent on those votes.
Hobson: But doesn’t this Hoeven-Corker Amendment address some of those problems? I mean it calls for 20,000 additional border guards.
Paul: Yeah not really because see what I’m asking for is that Congress decides when the border is secure. It’s somewhat of an amorphous conclusion that entails, you know, dozens of parameters as to whether the border is secure. So it is an opinion ultimately whether we are securing the border. To tell you how disparate the opinions are, the President and many of his political appointees currently think the border is already secure. So you see how there’s a difference of opinion over when the border is secure. The other problem I have with the bill, and which is keeping me from voting for it is, I think we have to make the work visa program work such that we don’t get more illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration comes from people who want to come here to work, they come to pick crops, but they’re not using the official work visa program, so they’re coming illegally. In this bill, for the first time, we set limits. The limit will be 100,000 ag-worker visas. Currently there’s no limit. So we’re going in the wrong direction. We’re actually going to be limiting legal immigration, which I think is what drives illegal immigration. So I’m for actually expanding work visas, much beyond what this bill does.
Hobson: But why so much focus on the southern border and people coming in through the southern border, because a large number of people who are here illegally simply fly in and overstay their visas.
Paul: Yeah, I think the key to getting rid of illegal immigration, no matter where its coming from is that you need to have a good legal apparatus for immigration. So you do need to expand your work visas. There are some good things in the bill. It expands H1B, which are skilled worker visas. I’m all for that. In fact I would have no limits on most work visas. If you have a job, that should be the criteria, cause we want people to come who are working, I have no problem with that. But there are some things we have to do. We have to control access to voting and control access to welfare for those who are undocumented workers currently as we make them workers through the work visa program, there should be stringent controls on welfare and voting. I have amendments that they didn’t allow me to have votes on, which would have said the state governments, you have to check for citizenship and you have to check for legal status before you allow someone to vote and before you allow someone to get welfare.
Hobson: But in the end, if you’re not going to support this bill, as it is, aren’t you missing the message from the last election, which was that the GOP was having a very difficult time connecting with Hispanics in this country, and they want an immigration bill.
Paul: Yeah I’m all for an immigration bill, but I can’t be just for tabula rasa. I’m for just anything you want to put on the paper. I am for an immigration reform bill that secures the border first, makes sure that we don’t give undocumented workers welfare or voting privileges before the time comes, and for letting Congress decide. So it isn’t supporting what kind of bill, but I am for immigration reform and I have said that over and over again and will continue to say it. We should have immigration reform. We should treat people better. We should treat people with dignity. And I’m not for sending people home. I am for trying to find a place for people in our country who want to work.
Hobson: I want to get your thoughts on some of the Supreme Court decisions that have just come out, starting with the ones on gay marriage. What’s your reaction to those?
Paul: You know I believe that in the historic and religious nature, marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also understand that our country sort of has a disagreement on some of these cultural issues. I think the one silver lining, from my point of view, to the ruling is that they’re still allowing states to decide this. Thirty-five states or 34 states have decided in favor of traditional marriage and the Supreme Court did not overturn that yesterday.
Hobson: But you’ve said that the new GOP is going to need to embrace liberty in both the economic and personal spheres so it seems to me that that would then include the freedom for people to marry the people that they want to marry.
Paul: Well I think that what happens is we do allow people and we do agree to disagree on this basically. So there’s going to be parts of this country who do embrace it and parts of the country who don’t, and I think that’s one of the beauties of federalism, and most people who are from my persuasion — they believe in limited government — do believe that most of these powers should devolve to state governments and to localities. If we do that, what it allows us to do is to be a country that has different viewpoints on some of these cultural issues. If you do that, then New York state may well have gay marriage and Alabama may not.
Hobson: And you’re fine with that?
Paul: Well what I’m fine with is allowing the states determine. Marriage has always been a state and local issue. I have my own personal beliefs of what I think marriage is, but I think the position that is going to work for our country that doesn’t pull us apart, is allowing states to make the decisions on these issues.
Hobson: Well speaking of your personal beliefs, you spoke with Glenn Beck and you were responding to his suggestion that gay marriage opens the door to things like polygamy, and here’s what you said “It is difficult because if we have no laws on this, people take it to one extension further. Does it have to be humans? You know, I mean, so there really are — the question is what social mores, can some social mores be part of legislation?” So do you think really that a man marrying a man is opening the door to a man marrying a horse or something?
Paul: I think you’ve misconstrued it and I think you need to listen to the interview again because in the interview we were talking about not having laws. We weren’t talking about gay marriage and we weren’t talking about DOMA, so go back and review the transcript. What we were talking about was whether state governments should be involved at all, and if there are no state government rules, what could potentially happen. And there was also a tone of sarcasm you need to go back and put in parenthesis when you read the transcript — sarcasm.
Hobson: Okay well let me ask you about the other big decision which involved the Voting Rights Act, which says that states and localities with a history of denying minorities the right to vote are required to prove to the federal government that any changes to their laws won’t harm those minority voting rights. The justices said the data is outdated and Congress should go in an update it. So is that something you would like to work on?
Paul: You know, what I would say is that there is some good news from the last 40 or 50 years in our country. There was a time in our country when there were state laws that precluded people from voting based simply on the color of their skin, and I think that there was a need. The 14th amendment allows the federal government to be involved in these affairs and there was a need for the federal government to be involved. But the good news is that we’ve largely eradicated the problem. We now have many of the states that were targeted by the voting rights act actually have a higher percentage of African American votes than white and I think that’s all good news.
Hobson: So you don’t think that you need to update the data at this point?
Paul: I think the Supreme Court examined the data and has found that the African American vote is now voting at a higher rate than white vote and I think that’s a good thing.
Hobson: You’ve talked a lot obviously about government overreach. There’s been a lot of that in the news recently, especially with this Edward Snowden/NSA story. I wonder if you think that he is a hero or a traitor.
Paul: You know I think that history will determine that. I am opposed to the NSA snooping and looking at a billion phone calls a day and on the issue of privacy, I think there is an expectation of privacy and I am in the process of filing a lawsuit and/or joining other lawsuits that question the constitutionality of a court order that gives access to a billion phone records. I think the Fourth Amendment was pretty clear that your person and your papers are to be protected. I think that also should apply whether somebody else is in custody of your papers, that you’ve entrusted them with that. I don’t think your right to privacy expires by entrusting someone else with your papers.
Hobson: But it’s interesting that you say ‘history will determine that.’ So you don’t have a personal view yet on Edward Snowden?
Paul: I think what will happen is, is that the story hasn’t completely unfolded. And I think that the history will judge, you know, James Clapper and Edward Snowden, and they will have to determine — you know, both broke the law, both were in some ways outside the law. James Clapper came to the Senate and it’s against the law to lie to the Senate, and he did lie to the Senate. And history will judge him as well. But the reason that I can’t say absolutely how he will be judged is it’s still unfolding. And I don’t think it’s a good idea, and I think history will judge harshly if any of this information is given directly to foreign governments, particularly governments that are perceived to be our enemy. However, I think in the expectation of privacy. People are very upset with their government monitoring billions of phone calls a day. And I think in that sense, we are going to continue that fight.
Hobson: Well what do you think is the appropriate balance between surveillance and trying to protect Americans against terrorism or anything else, and privacy?
Paul: I think you can have both.
Hobson: You can have both?
Paul: I think you can have both freedom and security.
Hobson: And you think that’s still being determined, what that balance should be?
Paul: Well, no, I think really you have both. Basically I think when one examines someone’s papers, you go to a judge and you should obey the Fourth Amendment. You should get a warrant specific to that person, that place and what you want to look at. And I think we can catch terrorism with the traditional understanding of the fourth amendment. I don’t think we have to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Hobson: Final question, Senator. You’ve been taking some trips to some primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina — I’m sure you get asked this every time you do an interview, but are you running for president?
Paul: We haven’t made a decision, but we haven’t been shy about saying that it is something that we’re examining. I’ve been traveling to early primary states because I want to talk about how the Republican Party becomes bigger. I think we need to be more inclusive. I think that we need to tell African Americans that there’s much to be desired in the Republican Party. I think we need to tell Hispanics the same thing. I think we need to tell a lot of people that it is our message that is going to help people enter into the middle class. And it’s our message that is the message of justice.
Hobson: Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. Thank you so much.
Paul: Thank you.