Republican Chairman Steele Criticizes and Defends Paul on Civil Rights

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele criticized Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul’s views on anti-discrimination laws, yet said he expects Paul to join Republicans in fighting for civil rights.

Paul is facing a controversy because he questioned part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While Paul said racism and discrimination are abhorrent, he said he would have tried to change the provision that deals with private businesses.

“His philosophy is misplaced in these times,” Steele said yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.” Earlier, on ABC’s “This Week,” Steele said he “wasn’t comfortable” with Paul’s view, yet expects him to be “on the same page” in the future.

“Rand Paul as United States senator will be four-square with the Republican Party and lockstep with moving forward on civil rights, not looking backward,” Steele said.

Republicans and Democrats are struggling to adjust to a wave of election results that show Americans are upset with the establishment in both parties. In his primary, Paul beat Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the chosen candidate of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Paul’s comments “were unfortunate,” Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, a fellow Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Still, Paul’s identification with the Tea Party movement represents “new energy, new ideas, passion” that will help Republicans, Pawlenty said.

Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. Close

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

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Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Maddow Interview

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked Paul last week if his comments meant that he would support a business that chose to exclude black people. Paul said there are issues when the line between public and private is blurred.

“Does the owner of the restaurant own his restaurant? Or does the government own his restaurant?” Paul asked.

Democrats immediately jumped on Paul’s comments, and on May 20 he issued a statement that said he would “not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said on “This Week” that Paul’s comments would “absolutely” help Democrats vying to win the Kentucky Senate seat left open by retiring Republican Jim Bunning.

Republicans Chime In

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, said he didn’t agree with Paul.

“Even a very good baseball player sometimes has a hard time going from triple A to the major leagues and that’s what happened to him,” Alexander said.

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said on “Fox News Sunday” that a reporter with “an agenda” may have targeted Paul. “They’re looking for that ‘gotcha’ moment,” she said.

Palin said that last week’s loss by Republicans in a special congressional election in Pennsylvania shows that her party shouldn’t “take anything for granted.” Still, she said Republicans can draw hope from the fact that the Democratic winner, Mark Critz, opposed some of President Barack Obama’s policies, such as health care.

Steele said the results in that Pennsylvania district, which supported Republican John McCain for president in 2008, can be explained by the fact that a competitive Democratic primary for Senate was being held the same day. Democrat Joe Sestak beat incumbent Democratic Senator Arlen Specter.

Sestak Job Offer

The Republican chairman called on Obama to explain Sestak’s claim that he had been offered a federal job to get out of the race. Kaine said on “Fox News Sunday” that the White House, if asked, “should deal with” the question.

Sestak himself declined to go into details on “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation,” though said he would be “honored” to have Obama campaign for him. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also declined to give details.

“Lawyers in the White House and others have looked into conversations that were had with Congressman Sestak and nothing inappropriate happened,” Gibbs said on CBS.

Republicans also took aim at statements made by the Democrats’ candidate for Senate in Connecticut, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The New York Times reported that Blumenthal had said he served “in Vietnam” when he was in a Marine reserve unit in the U.S.

“What the public is looking for is candidates and office- holders who they can trust,” Texas Senator John Cornyn, who runs the committee to elect Senate Republicans, said on “Meet the Press.” When Blumenthal later said he was mistaken, “it’s as if he shot himself in one foot and then reloaded and shot himself in the other.”

Kaine said Blumenthal did well to correct the misleading statements. “Those statements were wrong, period,” he said on “This Week.”

Still, Kaine noted that Blumenthal had repeatedly described his record accurately and said on “Fox News Sunday” that Connecticut voters have a long history of service in the state to review.

“The Connecticut voters will wrestle with it, but they just happen to know this guy very, very well,” Kaine said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kristin Jensen in Washington at kjensen@bloomberg.net

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