Rand Paul: 10 things to know about soon-to-be presidential nominee

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) (Reuters / Mike Theiler)
US Senator Rand Paul is set to announce on Tuesday the official beginning of his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Though he has a record of thwarting his party’s establishment, a Rand Paul candidacy will likely not be as bold.

Paul has indicated of late that he will work to court more conventionally-conservative voters -- and big money donors -- while attempting to maintain his perceived outsider, libertarian credentials.

Here are ten things to know about the Kentucky senator a day before he announces his candidacy with the slogan: “Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream.” Beyond Tuesday, expect a spectrum of political pandering.

1. Foreign policy

After years of falling on the anti-interventionist side of the debate over America's place in the world, Paul straddled the line during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Paul said, according to the Washington Post, that his presidency would focus on “a national defense unparalleled, undefeated and unencumbered by nation-building."

Last June, he said US policy had created extremist-laden "jihadist wonderlands" in the likes of Iraq and Libya through America's persistent meddling in the affairs of foreign nations. And while he has called likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a "war hawk" bent on involving the US in further conflicts in the Middle East, he has also pined for more American military action in order to "destroy" the Islamic State, an extremist group especially strong in Syria and Iraq.

While voting for war against Islamic State, Paul also opposed arming rebel groups in Syria, criticizing the effort for potentially boosting the same fighters that are battling alongside Islamic State militants in the Syrian civil war against President Bashar Assad.

Paul has also called for a boycott of Saudi Arabia, America's influential ally in the Middle East and leading partner in the coalition fighting Islamic State militants.

Senator Rand Paul (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

2. Iran

On Iran and its nuclear program, Paul has not been as hawkish as some of his peers in the GOP. In 2012, he voted against a non-binding resolution to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, calling the proposal a de-facto declaration of war. He has also opposed harsher sanctions against Iran, again saying he was against to any effort that could be considered an act of war.

“Before sending our young men and women into combat we should have a mature and thoughtful debate over the ramifications of war, over the advisability of war and over the objectives of the war,” Paul said.

Paul has chastised his party for obstructing nuclear negotiations between Iran and Obama administration officials. Yet, last month, Paul signed a Republican letter sent to Iran leadership announcing that any deal the Obama administration negotiated with Tehran over its nuclear program would likely dissolve if a Republican replaced Obama in January 2017, when Obama will leave office. The move was decried as political meddling in diplomatic affairs by a US Congress. Paul said he only signed it to strengthen the president's hand.

"I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength, which means that he needs to be telling them in Iran, 'I've got Congress to deal with,'" Paul said, adding, that he also endorsed the letter based on his support for the separation of powers invested in the US Constitution.

"I wouldn't have signed the letter had he [Obama] not altered immigration law on his own, had he not altered the health care law on his own, and had he not taken us to war on his own," Paul said.

3. Military spending

Paul has called for further cuts to US military spending, an opinion seldom voiced among his party.

"I believe national defense is the most important thing we do, but it isn't a blank check," he said last year. "Some conservatives think, 'Oh, give them whatever they want and that everything is for our soldiers' and they play up this patriotism that, 'Oh, we don't have to control defense spending.'"

"We can't be a trillion dollars in the hole every year," he added.

But, as foreshadowed by his comments in February over an "unparalleled" and "undefeated" national defense, he seems to understand that calling for cuts to the military budget won't get him far with many non-libertarian Republicans. To that end, after his campaign announcement on Tuesday, he will appear at at Patriots Point in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor, using a World War II aircraft carrier as a background prop, according to the Washington Post.

4. Drone strikes

Paul has argued against extrajudicial drone assassinations of American citizens, such as was the case with Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. In 2013, Paul filibustered the nomination of John Brennan as head of the Central Intelligence Agency over the Obama administration's justification of drone strikes against Americans.

"I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court," he said during the filibuster.

Paul has also expressed concern for the threat to privacy posed by everyday use of unmanned aerial vehicles in American skies. The federal government is currently crafting rules regarding domestic drone use.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) (Reuters / Jason Reed)

5. NSA reform

Some consider that Paul began his slide away from his roguish denunciations of Washington’s power abuses long before the present day. He has excoriated revelations of the National Security Agency's global spying regime, exposed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, going as far as to sue the Obama administration over the constitutionality of the NSA program that collects metadata on US citizens' phone calls.

“There's a huge and growing swell of protest in this country of people who are outraged that their records are being taken without suspicion, without a judge's warrant, and without individualization,” Paul said. “I'm not against the NSA, I'm not against spying, I'm not against looking at phone records. I just want you to go to a judge, have an individual's name and [get] a warrant. That's what the Fourth Amendment says.”

Yet when the admittedly tepid NSA reform bill was a mere two votes from passing the US Senate in November, Paul balked, saying the legislation was not strong enough. Paul later claimed he “felt bad” that the legislation failed, because it “probably needed my vote."

The 'no' vote by Paul, a civil libertarian in the mold of his father and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, was seen by some as a fig leaf to Mitch McConnell, the powerful, well-connected top Republican in the Senate.

The vote has also received criticism from Sen. Ted Cruz, the only official Republican presidential candidate thus far, who voted for the legislation and is expected to challenge some of Paul's support among unorthodox modern American conservatives.

And despite his overall opposition to the NSA's vast surveillance powers, Paul said he opposes clemency for Snowden, who was responsible for revealing abuses Congress should have flagged in the first place. Paul did say, though, that Snowden -- currently in exile in Russia -- should only get a few years in prison for the unauthorized disclosures.

6. Criminal justice reform

In response to national outrage over the utilization of military weaponry by police in Ferguson, Missouri -- which is emblematic of police forces across the nation -- Paul has been among the few in Congress to consider stemming the flow of Pentagon excess to towns across America. At congressional hearing in September, Paul said heavy-handed use of force by police in Ferguson was “thoroughly un-American,” and that the Pentagon’s 1033 program should be shuttered.

In mid-March, Paul appeared at at Maryland’s Bowie State University, a historically black college, to champion criminal justice reform. He told the crowd of 200 students and community leaders that reforms to the justice system are necessary because current sentencing laws are harsh and disproportionally affect African-Americans. In the wake of the damning US Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department and court system, Paul spoke out against practices such as excessive fines that have become an economic boon to local governments, as well as the seizure of private assets by police prior to criminal conviction.

“It’s predominately [affecting] African-American, it’s predominantly [affecting] Hispanics. But if you want one common denominator, it’s predominantly [affecting] people who live in poverty,” he said at Bowie State. “It’s unfair and it ought to stop. This is one thing the president and I agree on.”

While some lauded the sentiments expressed by Paul, others were not as impressed.

“I found him superficial,” Bob Woodson, president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, told the Washington Post. “I think these guys have got to do more than show up. Going to Howard [University] and then going to Ferguson [Missouri]? I don’t know what that was all about. His talk about the militarization of police felt like pandering.”

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) (Reuters / Larry Downing)

7. Religious freedom and gay rights

Paul has not commented on Indiana's controversial 'religious freedom' bill, which many see as an attempt to discriminate against others based on one's religion. Paul did say in March that, “The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government," the Washington Post reported. As the Huffington Post reported last week, Paul has not supported marriage equality rights for gays and lesbians.

8. Marijuana legalization

Paul has supported legalizing small amounts of recreational marijuana, and he has sponsored legislation to legalize medical marijuana across the nation.

"The main thing I’ve said is not to legalize them, but not to incarcerate people for extended periods of times,” he has said of nonviolent drug offenders going to prison for decades during America's so-called 'war on drugs.'

9. Audit the Fed and IRS reform

One of Paul's longtime positions has been to audit the Federal Reserve.

"The Fed's operations under a cloak of secrecy have gone on too long and the American people have a right to know what the Federal Reserve is doing with our nation's money supply," Paul said when he proposed an audit bill in 2013. "Audit the Fed has significant bipartisan support in Congress and across the country and the time to act on this is now."

Reform of the Internal Revenue Service is another Paul priority. One method of doing so, he has said, involves instituting a flat tax that is the same for all taxpayers, rather than a progressive or tiered tax system.

“What you’d have is an attrition if not an outright elimination of the IRS because it would be so simple that people would comply, and it would be very simple to know whether they complied or not,”
Paul said in 2013.

10. Plagiarism accusations

In late 2013, the Washington Times newspaper announced that it is ending a regular column by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul following a series of plagiarism charges against his work. Paul was accused of not only failing to properly cite references for his written and spoken work, but also of essentially lifting passages verbatim from other sources. He took responsibility for the tainted work, saying he has staff and advisers who help him with his speeches and columns.

"Ultimately, I'm the boss, and things go out under my name, so it is my fault," he said. "I never had intentionally presented anyone's ideas as my own."