Politics Q&A: Senator Rand Paul

The Kentucky senator and son of Ron Paul talks about the Constitution, the Republican Party and his father's appeal to independent voters.

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Rand Paul, Republican senator from Kentucky, is the more politically savvy heir to his father's legacy of libertarian-tinged conservatism. He's campaigned for the presidential bid of his dad, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, even as many Paul-watchers wonder if Rand isn't the one more suited to the national spotlight. A recent interview in Rand Paul's Senate offices started with constitutional issues and proceeded to politics. Wearing black sneakers with his de rigueur Capitol Hill suit and tie, Paul talked about suing the Obama Administration, his father's path to victory (or lack thereof), and the other candidates' lack of true conservative bona fides. This interview has been condensed and edited.

You recently spoke on the Senate floor against the president's recent recess appointments. What in your view is the potential consequence of the president's action?

It takes a long time to go to court in our country and I think we will go to court. I'm signing on with an amicus to a group already suing the [National Labor Relations Board]. It will tie things up, because any decisions they make or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau makes will be challenged in court. This could go on for years, I would think.

The real problem I see of it is -- what really draws a stark picture for people -- is that he could do this for a Supreme Court justice. Now, he probably won't, because he knows all hell would break loose if he did. But this is the precedent. He gets to decide when we're in recess.

We were talking this morning about how there was no Democrat standing up [against this] and would [former West Virginia Sen.] Robert Byrd have stood up. We think Robert Byrd would have stood up and said, 'This is nonsense, to do that.' You need to have people within your own party that have the wherewithal to stand up to you. If a Republican does injustice, I'll be up on the floor saying the same thing.

Why don't you think there are any Democrats with you on this?

I don't know. It disappoints me. Because, see, earlier in the year, we took the president's own words when he ran for office, saying no president should unilaterally go to war without the authority of Congress, Congressional authorization. His words exactly. And not one Democrat voted to support those words. They see it as a partisan attack on the president, but to me, I would have done it if it had been Bush. I mean, because it's your words -- either stand by them or not. You shouldn't have one opinion when you're running and another when you're president.

The Democrats argue that it's the Republican Congress that has undermined the Constitution by keeping Congress artificially in session when it ought to be in recess.

There's like an 80-year precedent for the way it's been done. And the Democrats did it to George Bush to keep him from doing recess appointments, and George Bush didn't take the law into his own hands and just appoint people anyway. This president has gone above and beyond us to say, 'I decide.' That's the problem of allowing one person to decide when Congress is in recess.

It also really is about the checks and balances. The Senate, and Congress in general, has been losing its power for 100 years, but we lose it because we give it up. For example, all the stuff that we've given to regulatory agencies -- we gave it up. We let regulatory agencies write regulations that cost the economy $100 million or more, sometimes $1 billion or more, and we just gave it away. It's our fault. We gave it away. This is another thing. We're giving away the power to control advise and consent. We gave away the power to go to war after World War II. We need to get that back. It really shouldn't be just a partisan issue. There ought to be people on the other side, but they see it as support for their president, so they're unwilling to criticize him.

What about the argument that Republicans have obstructed the nomination process?

I don't know the statistics exactly, but I think we've voted on a bunch. Over half of our votes this year I think have been on nominations. We stopped [CFPB head Richard] Cordray and there might have been a circuit court judge, but we've only stopped one or two people out of hundreds.

But those are the ones that came up for votes. Aren't there more nominations being held up from even coming to a vote?

I don't think it's worse than the Democrats did under Bush.

Shouldn't the president, under the Constitution, be entitled to a vote on his nominees?

He gets to nominate, and then we go through the process. If people are very much outside the mainstream as judged by the majority of the Senate, or judged by 41 senators, then he doesn't get them. If it's fair or it's not fair, I can tell you there isn't any sense we've been holding things up. There's been a good flow of nominees.

We're signing onto a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of what the president has done, and I hope that does make it all the way to the Supreme Court. The health care [challenge], people dismissed it at first, said, 'Oh, that'll never go anywhere,' and now it's been upheld by several courts and [the Supreme Court has agreed to hear it].

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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