U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was in Chicago Tuesday to discuss politics and education reform at two events in the city. Progress Illinois recaps some of the highlights from the discussions.
While in Chicago Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke out against Republican efforts across the country that seek to get rid of early voting.
"I don't think early voting is bias one way or the other, so I think eliminating it is a mistake," the senator said. "For the Republicans who want to make their whole thing eliminating early voting, I think that's a mistake."
Paul, who is rumored to be a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, made those remarks during an afternoon discussion hosted by the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. David Axelrod, the institute's director and a former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, asked Paul questions on an assortment of topics, including the Republican movement to curb voting rights in some states.
The libertarian-leaning senator did not say he was against voter ID laws, which restrict individuals without state-issued photo identification from voting and, can consequentially, make it harder for student, elderly, minority and disabled voters to cast ballots. He did acknowledge, however, that Republicans may have "overemphasized" the instances of voter fraud when talking about the need for such voter ID measures.
On to the topic of abortion, Paul said his personal religious belief is that "life begins at the very beginning."
When asked whether he would sign or promote a law to restrict abortion rights, the senator said, "I think where the country is, is somewhere in the middle. We're not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise."
That wasn't the only question Paul danced around. The congressman was also a bit dodgy when Axelrod inquired about his thoughts on climate change.
"We have real data about 100 years, so somebody tell me what a hundred years' data is in an Earth that's 4.6 billion years old," Paul responded, adding that his guess is that "the conclusions that you make from that are not conclusive."
"All that being said, I'm against pollution," Paul continued. "I think we should minimize pollution."
Paul went on to say that "someone is an ignoramus who would say that, 'Oh we had three hurricanes this year, this proves that somehow the climate is warming.' The earth's 4.5 billion years old and you're going to say we had four hurricanes and that proves a theory?"
Meanwhile, on the topic of government surveillance, Paul stressed that the federal government has "gone way too far in allowing a breach of privacy."
Here is more from the senator on government surveillance as well as phone data collection:
Prior to the U of C discussion, Paul attended a separate forum in the early afternoon focused on education reform. The event, held at the all-girls Catholic school Josephinum Academy, located in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, centered around the topic of school choice.
At the talk, co-sponsored by the Illinois Policy Institute, Paul said education is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Instead, individuals who Paul called "dead-enders" are on one side of the issue, while "those who believe in innovation" are on the other.
When asked by reporters after the event to clarify who the dead-enders are, Paul said, "I would say that the Democrat Party is opposed to charter schools and vouchers pretty much steadfastly, and I would say that the unions have as well."
So teacher unions and Democrats are the dead-enders, a reporter said in an attempt to get more clarification.
"They're the ones who have opposed school choice," the senator responded.
Overall, Paul said Republicans need to amplify the message of school choice.
"It's an issue, I think, that reaches out to maybe some communities that haven't been listening to Republicans," Paul said. "We have to figure out as Republicans how to get our message to the people who favor charter schools and favor choice in school and say, 'Look we do care about your kids and frankly, the other side cares more about the status quo than your kids.'"
Ideally, Paul said education should be a state and local issue.
"But since we do have it involved at the federal level, I've also advocated for Title I funds to be attached to a student and sent to a school where the student chooses," he said. "Right now, Title I funds are supposed to go to poorer school districts, but sometime they end up getting to school districts that may or may not be deserving of that."
"I would like to make it part of school choice by saying Title I funds go to eligible families, and then those families make the choice of where they go to school, so it could be some federal aspect to it," Paul added.
The senator also discussed education reform at the U of C discussion, detailing his thoughts on why the U.S. Department of Education could be eliminated. Here are some of his comments:
At both events, the senator was asked about immigration reform. He was questioned on the issue the same day a group of business leaders and prominent Illinois Republicans, such as GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and Republican U.S. Senate nominee state Sen. Jim Oberweis, gathered in Chicago to express their support for immigration reform. A measure designed to overhaul the country's immigration system passed through the Senate last June but has since been stalled in the House.
"Yes, I favor immigration reform, and I think the only way you'll get immigration reform this year is you need to find a compromise," Paul told reporters at Josephinum.
Democrats, Paul noted, want what they call comprehensive immigration reform, but House Republicans are not in favor of that approach.
"So you have to find something in between," Paul continued. "If the Democrats are willing to find something in between, I'm willing to talk. And I've always said I wanted to be part of the dialogue."
Paul had previously introduced an amendment to the Senate's immigration reform proposal that, among other things, sought to make immigration reform contingent on a vote from Congress certifying that the border is properly secured. The Senate ultimately rejected the amendment, which is one reason Paul said he did not support the final immigration reform bill in his chamber.
"I also would have brought along a lot of people in the House if my amendments would have passed, but they weren't interested in really having the amendment," the senator said. "They had enough votes in the Senate, but they don't have the votes in the House, so really it is about trying to find a middle ground on immigration reform, but I am in favor of it."
At the U of C discussion, Axelrod pressed Paul on how the government should handle the 11 million undocumented people in the country.
In response, Paul said he does not support a "new pathway" to citizenship. He is, however, in favor of expanding work visas that would grant legalized status to undocumented immigrants and as they go through the formal process to gain citizenship.
Videos courtesy of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics