U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said Saturday that government powers need to be reined in, with a renewed focus on the Bill of Rights .
Paul, R-Ky., gave a speech at a $30-a-person fundraiser at the Golden Nugget for the Nevada Republican Party. Paul, a potential contender for president in the 2016 election, is the son of retired Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
About 200 people attended the event. The Kentucky senator joked that he had borrowed a cellphone from his colleague U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“Do you think the NSA is going to be surprised to see Harry Reid at a Republican event?” he said, a reference to the National Security Administration’s surveillance program that has come under criticism.
Paul also said the United States needs to look at its history — such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II — when preserving the rights of Americans.
“These things have to change,” he said. “We have to do something better. We need to be that party. We need to be the party that says, ‘Yes, you do get a lawyer.’ ”
Paul also stressed that citizens’ rights — to a lawyer and have your day in court — is about more than President Barack Obama. Instead, it’s about power.
“I don’t care whether it’s Republican or a Democrat,” he said. “Should any president have the authority to detain an American citizen without a trial?”
Paul said he once sent Obama a letter asking whether the president can kill an American citizen on American soil who is not engaged in combat.
“In six weeks, I finally got an answer and he said, ‘Well, I haven’t killed anybody yet, and I really don’t intend to, but I might,’ ” Paul said. “That was basically his answer. They were slightly different words than that, but that was basically his answer, that he might under certain circumstances.”
Paul also told the Republican faithful that the party needs to look beyond its traditional base and connect with diverse races and ethnicities, including Hispanics, Arabs and Asian-Americans.
“I tell people we need to have people in our party with tattoos and without tatoos, with ties and without ties,” he said. “People who look like me, people who don’t look like me. We have to be a bigger, more diverse party.”
He gave one example of reaching out to youth: stressing the value of Internet freedom and one’s right to read online without fear of government monitoring.
Paul said people have a right to privacy on their land, despite drone technology that can monitor from 50,000 feet.
The issue is bigger than just drones, Paul said, it’s about rights.
“It is about whether you have a warrant,” he said.
He mentioned his Senate colleague Reid again when he spoke about the need to trim the federal budget. Among Paul’s recommendations: cut unnecessary government travel, removing union requirements of government projects, and avoiding frivolous government research projects.
The government spent $325,000 on a research project that involved building a robotic squirrel to find out whether a rattlesnake would bite a squirrel when its tail wasn’t moving, Paul said.
“I gave Harry Reid and the president a long list of the things they can cut, because they seem to be stumped,” he said, as the audience laughed.
Before the speech, he posed with donors for pictures at a $1,000-per-person VIP event. Paul spoke with reporters after the speech.
Asked what he would do first if he was elected president, Paul said: “I would say from now I’m not going to sign any budget that’s not balanced.”
Paul said he isn’t riding on his famous father’s coattails. He pointed to his two-and-a-half years in the U.S. Senate, saying he’s not his father but is proud of his father.
He said he has areas of disagreement with his father but didn’t go into specifics.
“I try not to emphasize them too much,” he said. “I still want to sit at the adult table when I go home for Thanksgiving.”
Contact reporter Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.