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Jon Fleischman

A Wide Ranging Interview with U.S. Senator Rand Paul

Late last week and over the weekend United States Senator Rand Paul traveled first to Northern and then to Southern California.  Last Friday, in the middle of his Golden State travels, we published an exclusive column from the Senator.  Yesterday, after his trip through California was over, I had the opportunity to catch up with Senator Rand on the phone where he was kind enough to grant me an interview.  We spoke for about twenty minutes on a wide range of topics including technology, privacy rights, immigration, gay marriage, domestic drone use, and more.  The interview appears below.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY)

Jon Fleischman (JF):      Thank you, Senator, for agreeing to this interview.  I publish the Flash Report website on California politics. Our readers are stranded conservatives in California who are watching with gross fascination as Rome burns in Sacramento. We are hopeful we can turn some things around here and we appreciate your time. You just returned home from your three-day visit from northern and southern California. You visited Google, Facebook, and EBay. How did that go?

Senator Rand Paul (RP):      I think we had a very good reception. I think in some ways there is something that is out there that is a little different from what they are getting. I think a lot of them supported Obama, maybe more in 2008 and maybe a little less in 2012. I do not think they are happy with his fiscal policies, his taxation policies, and his regulatory policies and really even his civil liberties record anymore. I think really many people in Silicon Valley are actually more fiscally conservative than the Democrats and more fiscally conservative than President Obama. They just are not as socially conservative as many Republicans. Ultimately I think that is sort of the way is if we want to win them over we have to be a Party that probably ends up having a big enough tent to include people who disagree on some of the cultural issues.

JF:       I know that those companies make money through collecting data about people, our personal information. Did you have any dialogue maybe about your Email Privacy Bill or anything like that?

RP:      I found good support for it up there. Really, what many people do not distinguish is that there is a difference between voluntarily sharing your information and involuntarily sharing your information. When I sign a contract to Google services, I signed up to frankly share some of my shopping habits in exchange for a valuable tool to search the internet and surf the internet. That really is a contract. It is different when the government goes in and wants to read your email because with the government I have not signed any waiver to give up any information, and so I want Google to protect me from the government. The government should only be allowed to look at your private information when they have probable cause that you have committed a crime or when they ask an independent officer of the judiciary who is not part of the political apparatus typically to make a judgment on whether or not you may have committed a crime. It is a big difference but when I did talk to Google I talked to them about how important it is that the public know they are defending privacy and how important it is that the public not be fooled into thinking that Gmail stands for government mail. If they get lumped together with the government the animosity towards government invading privacy could catch up a lot of private companies in that same grasp and a lot of the privacy protection acts could then be directed against private companies instead of where they justly should be, and that is against the government.

JF:       Those are all very good points. On a completely different subject, since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have seen a growing divide amongst Republicans on foreign policy matters which is necessarily led to a divide over the level of funding for the Armed Services and many other tangential issues. How would you best summarize your approach to U.S. foreign policy and what you think is the way forward for the GOP on this critical issue?

RP:      I think my answer at the Reagan Library is a pretty good description of what I believe. Probably the most important function of the federal government is national defense, defending our country is embodied in the Constitution. It is really what we should be emphasizing here in Washington. Reagan talked about peace through strength, he did not talk about war through strength. He believed in a very strong military but he also believed in negotiation. He was able to bring the cold war to an end with strong rhetoric, a strong military, but also the willingness to talk to Gorbachev. By avoiding giving in and given up the shop in the beginning he got Gorbachev to negotiate. I think that ultimately the type of foreign policy that I am in favor of is what is a little more restrained, little less eager for war and believes that when we go to war that the Constitution mandates that it be declared by Congress.

JF:       Well I would certainly agree with that. We all just read that your colleague Senator McCain just returned from his stealth visit to the rebels in Syria. I also recall that you recently traveled with your family to Israel. What do you think the role of the United States should be in the Middle East and what should we be doing in that region?

RP:      we have longstanding relationship with Israel, I went over to Israel with my family, with several evangelical Christian pastors as well as orthodox Jews, and we learned a lot about the situation over there, hoping to find a solution. I am not sure I came home with a solution, but I did come home understanding and basically enjoying myself over there, learning a lot about our shared history and revisiting a lot of the shared history we have. As far as what we do in the Middle East, every situation is different and you have a realist when it comes to foreign policy, we have to look at the situation, as it exists on the ground at that moment. I am less likely than some of my Republican colleagues to want to get involved in Syria. The problem is getting out — saying we are not going to support Al Qaeda, we are just going to support the good guys. We have trouble determining the good guys even in Afghanistan, which is a much more stable situation. I think we have had nearly 100 of our soldiers killed by attacks by Afghan soldiers who probably were elements of Al Qaeda that they show up and say – oh yes I love Afghanistan I love America and I want to join the Army and three weeks later when we are looking at the way they shoot our soldiers in the back. You can see we have a tough time vetting Afghan soldiers and it is about a thousand times harder to vet people in Syria. There are a couple of ironies that I mentioned that will have to be overcome. The first irony is we will be giving arms to forces who are associated with Al Qaeda. It may not be directly part of Al Qaeda, but they are fighting on the same side of the war.  That is a bit of an irony since that is what we were sent over there in the 2001 authorization of force to combat. The second irony is there will be funding Islamic rebels, who will be killing Christians probably because Christians are on the other side of this. In fact, there is a story out in the last couple of days about a city called Al-Dahar close to Homs that there was a massacre of Christians supposedly by Syrian rebels.

JF:       That is terrible. I know that when I talk to folks and they ask me how to describe your foreign policy I say well you have Bill Kristol and Condoleezza Rice on one end of the spectrum and then you have maybe your dad on the other end of the spectrum. Then just notch a little bit over and that is probably where we would find you, at least that is usually how I usually try to summarize it.

RP:      I like to say there are two extremes – one is we are everywhere all the time, one is that we are nowhere any of the time and the middle ground is we are somewhere some of the time when we have a full healthy national debate, when Congress acts on this and gives their approval of the President. There is an error in always thinking we are going to be everywhere. The people who are voting to arm the Syrian rebels they also voted also to arm the Libyan rebels and to be in that war. Interestingly a year before they were voting to arm Khadafi. These people have never met a country they did not want to get involved. I think we go overboard on it and it is not to say there is not a tragedy going on in Syria but there may not be a good answer.

JF:       Let’s talk about two key issues here in California. The first of which is immigration. Obviously is a big issue for California because we are the home to the highest volume of people here who violated federal immigration law to be here.  There is a lot of attention on this issue. Where do you stand relative to this Gang of 8 Proposal and if you do not support that, how would you look forward in terms of if you were the GOP on this issue?

RP:      I think something has to be done. We have ten or eleven million people a year who are here illegally or are undocumented currently. The reason they come here is primarily for work and what happens is our visa system does not work. For example, three or four hundred thousand people come in every year to pick crops. There are only about sixty-five thousand of them coming in legally to the work visa program. The work visa program is horribly broken. It is expensive, it takes two and a half months to process and it costs a thousand dollars a worker to get them processed through it, and they may well demand a wage that is above the market wage so nobody uses it. That is the driver of illegal immigration.  It is the three to four hundred thousand that come in every year outside the work visa program. This bill actually puts a limit on agricultural visas — the exact opposite of what you want to do. You should be making the work visa program work better and you should be expanding work visas not contracting them. They made a deal with the unions and the unions wants to limit the number of workers. My sort of joke has been the Democrats want voters not workers. It is really the opposite of what you need to have in an approach. I am afraid this bill is going in the wrong direction on work visas.  It does expand them for skilled workers, the H1Bs I am in favor of that. I think anybody that there is a job available for and they want to work in, is good for our country. However, we must have a fix for the illegal immigration problem that also involves border security, I do not think the bill has adequate border security, it basically delegates border security to the administration and it says – you guys fix it by writing a report on how we would have a fence. If that does not work then we would like you to have a commission to write another report on what we are supposed to be doing. Instead of just saying – well, gosh we authorized this fence ten years ago, why don’t we just get them to build it.  That is sort of the problem I have with the bill now. We have proposed several amendments.  We have one amendment we called Trust But Verify, which says Congress has to vote each year on whether the border is secure, and that will give conservatives like myself a chance to continue to vote to force them to make the borders secure. The other amendments I have are on voting and welfare and what these say to the states is – if you are not checking sufficiently whether they are citizens or not, before they get welfare or before they get voting which they are not supposed to get, then we will take away your Federal money for this or that. We will see what happens with my amendments. I also have another, which says no new pathway to citizenship, which allows you to get in the line with somebody next that currently gets in but you, cannot get in a new line. We will see what happens we need my vote to pass and maybe they will come and talk to me. So far, there has not been a lot of robust exchange yet so we will see.

JF:       You brought up one of your amendments addresses the key issue that I hear about all the time, which is a frustration about Congress delegating away from itself the decision- making on whether or not the border is secure before any other issues get pushed forward. I think your amendment not only addresses it, but having to be reaffirmed annually, I think is great.

JF:       The other issue is California voters a few years ago passed Prop 8 to preserve marriage being defined between a man and a woman which has been winding its way through the court system and it is before the Supreme Court now. A recent survey here showed that Californians have shifted appreciably on the issue with more support for gay marriage. Where are you on this issue? I guess trying to distinguish between personal philosophy and then role of government in this issue as people reading this interview try to see a path forward.

RP:      I believe in traditional marriage, I believe in a historically religious nature of marriage. I would leave the issue up to the states. This is what the Founding Fathers decided for 200 years now, 300 years if you count the days of the colonies, marriage was always a local state issue. I would leave it that way.

JF:       So you would pretty much say that California should do what it wants to do. It is a complex issue. It has been about three months since your filibuster. Do you think the Filibuster had an appreciable impact on the body politic inside the beltway?

RP:      A little bit inside the beltway. The President has been responding directly to me on the issue of drones and the issue of people getting a trial when they are accused of a crime. I think we have had some effect there. I think we have had an even bigger effect across the countryside because what we are finding across the countryside is this is an issue that really goes beyond party lines. We had just a wide range of people from the left to the right and just tens of thousands of people. I think they said there was over a million tweets on the subject that day.

JF:       I want to get your perspective on this as you talk about drones. There are many discussions taking place in the California legislature and in legislatures around the country about how we should be dealing with the issue of drone use domestically. One idea is that law enforcement should have to get a warrant if they are going to use a drone domestically. Do you have any thoughts on specifics about drone use inside the United States?

RP:      We have a bill that specifically addresses this for Federal authorities and our bill is actually been now duplicated at the state level.  Someone’s carrying it in Kentucky.  I think I met someone in California that says they are introducing it as well. Basically, we say if you have to use without a warrant and why this is important is that this is going to have to go to the Supreme Court. Previously courts have decided that in open space you do not have any semblance of privacy in an open space. I think needs to be narrowed down. It is one thing walking down the road or something.   But in your backyard, your swimming pool or hot tub, your baseball field, swimming in the creek, hunting —  all these places even though they are open, should you really be allowed to be spied on? I really think public or private in this case because really what happens if a private person looks in your window versus peeking through your fence, that is a peeping tom and that is illegal. We already have laws against people invading your privacy. We just have more sophisticated tools to do it. There are supposedly drones that are as small as a mosquito that can carry a camera or a couple of millimeters or centimeters across, that could be hovering or applied to a window and could be looking in your house or backyard. Then there are drones that fly for 50,000 feet that can tell quite a bit about your activity. The Supreme Court did agree what policeman can do with GPS technology so I think also that needs to occur with regards to drones as well. The court is going to have to make some ruling on this but I am all for state legislatures trying to pass legislation saying let us protect the Fourth Amendment. Really, we need the protection for drones — but also for third party banking records, your visa records, and your email — all of these things need to be protected. This is an issue really that I think could resonate for Republicans if they want to be the defenders of civil liberties. It helps to grow a party and I think it would help us particular in states like California where we are not doing so well.

JF:       Right. I would agree with that. Well we know from your talk at the Reagan Library that a decision for your in terms of a bid for the Presidency is a year or two off. If the support I felt for you sitting in the audience for that speech is something that you are replicating all across the country you certainly would be a strong contender.

RP:      We are excited about the turnout there. Somebody said there were twelve hundred people there. I do not know how many it holds but it was pretty exciting to address and it looked pretty much like a packed audience.

JF:       There were over twelve hundred people there and of course, I saw you in front of a line, you must have signed about 400 books. I imagine your hand was probably hurting by the time it was over.

RP:      It was hard because you cannot spend much time with people when you have 400 to sign. It was very gratifying and it felt like we made some progress. I think people have not spent enough time in California.  People go out there to raise money but they have not gone out there with the intent of saying — you know what? Let’s put California in play.

JF:       We appreciate you penning a column for our website which ran last Friday, which has gotten a lot of traffic, and we appreciate your time today.