More controversial Rand Paul comments could affect GOP Unity Rally Saturday
On the eve of a Republican Unity Rally in Frankfort to bring together the party for November's election, U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul made more controversial statements-- this time when he told Good Morning America that President Obama sounded "un-American" for criticizing BP for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
"What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,"' Paul said in an interview Friday morning with host George Stephanopoulos. "I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business."
In that interview, Paul talked about the April 29 Dotiki mine collapse that killed two workers in Western Kentucky, saying "sometimes accidents happen."
The statements brought rebukes from a labor organization and from Kentucky Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, Paul's opponent in the November election.
And they may cause ripples at the Unity Rally, where Paul will come face to face with the party establishment he spent months criticizing on the campaign trail and in his victory speech Tuesday.
At the same time, Kentucky's most powerful Republican, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, must decide how he will embrace the outsider who beat his endorsed candidate, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, by a blistering 23 points in Tuesday's primary election.
The unity rally at the GOP headquarters in Frankfort -- named the Mitch McConnell Building -- will feature two uneasy allies trying to come together to defeat Conway.
"The marching orders from Republican voters is: Republican leaders get your act together and let's win this thing in November," said Jack Richardson IV, former Jefferson County Republican Party chairman and a member of the GOP state central committee.
Adding to the intrigue is a slew of controversial statements made by Paul in the media this week regarding his stance on civil rights, followed by his remarks on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and last month's deadly coal mining disaster in Kentucky.
Paul came under fire for saying this week that while he abhors racism and doesn't want to see the Civil Rights Act repealed, he believes it went too far in prohibiting private businesses from being able to discriminate. It was during an interview to defend his statements about civil rights that Paul broached the subjects of the oil spill and the mine collapse.
Stephanopoulos asked Paul if the U.S. government had authority to tell BP that it had to use a less-toxic dispersant in its efforts to clean up the spill, which occurred after a BP oil rig collapsed last month following an explosion that killed 11 workers.
In defending the oil company and saying that we don't yet know if BP is to blame for the environmental disaster, Paul said: "What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of, 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP.' I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business."
Conway replied later Friday with a statement, saying: "Rand Paul apparently has a deeply held conviction that corporations should be allowed to do what they see fit without oversight or accountability."
Paul defended his statement, saying he was only talking about the tone of a statement from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who said administration officials would keep their "boot on the throat" of the oil giant until it stops the flow of millions of gallons of oil into the gulf.
"No one is saying BP did it purposeful, sabotage so they could pollute the ocean," Paul said. "The thing about the statement about a boot on the throat, it sounds like something a tyrant would do to people that they are, you know, assaulting in the street. ... I think that has a tenor that is inappropriate."
Other Republicans have criticized the government's handling of the oil spill, but few have been so vocal in defending BP.
It was during his discussion of the oil spill that Paul brought up the Dotiki mine collapse, saying the accident was tragic but that "we come in and it's always someone's fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen."
Such a statement could be troublesome for a candidate in the nation's third-largest coal-producing state.
Mine-safety advocate Tony Oppegard said it's premature to make such comments because the federal investigation of the Dotiki mine cave-in is not finished.
"It's easy for him to say we look for someone to blame," Oppegard said, "but the fact is, this company had a horrible safety record."
Webster Coal, which owns the mine, has been cited 840 times since January 2009 -- 323 of the citations for "significant and substantial" violations. The Dotiki mine has been cited 17 times in the past year and a half for failing to secure roofs and walls against falling rock and coal.
In a statement, Kimberly Freeman Brown, the executive director of the pro-labor American Rights at Work, called Paul's comment "simply bizarre. Obviously he hasn't read the published reports about the mine disaster in his own state."
In an interview with The Courier-Journal Friday, Paul said he was trying to make the point that "there are tragedies that occur in all walks of our life and it's not always somebody who intentionally wanted to harm someone or was negligent, sometimes you do everything right."
Paul said he needs to learn more about the mine and its safety record.
"I think they said there were 300 safety violations, but I think a good fact would be to find out how many safety violations do each of them get every week or every month. Was that a disproportionate amount?" he said.
Paul said in an interview that he understands that miners want a safe working environment "but I think the owners do too, and a lot of times ... are made out to appear that they don't care about their workers," he said. "And I think that's not true."
No GOP boycott expected
Republicans are downplaying Paul's statements while at the same time pushing him to get back on his message of reducing the federal deficit, cutting spending and minimal government intrusion.
"I don't think any Republicans will not show up because of his comments," said former Jefferson County Republican Party Chairman Bill Stone, who supported Grayson in the primary.
But he said Paul needs to get back on message.
"I think he showed his inexperience as a national candidate in the last couple days, which is correctable because he's highly intelligent," Stone said.
On Friday Paul canceled a scheduled Sunday appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, according to show host David Gregory.
Paul campaign manager David Adams said earlier Friday that he wasn't sure whether Paul would appear.
University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss said that some Republicans privately have to be worried about associating with Paul after his comments this week.
"The Rand Paul fracas over the Civil Rights Act is going to encourage some of these Republicans to keep some distance from him until they see how it plays out," Voss said.
Officials say they plan to keep the focus of the unity rally on attacking Conway.
"The issues at hand are stopping cap and trade, the Washington liberal war on coal, balancing the federal budget and getting our nation back on the right track," Adams said.
Still, party leaders remain divided whether it is up to Paul or McConnell to extend an olive branch?
"It behooves (Paul) to be a good winner and understand that the reason the Senate seat from Kentucky means so much is in many ways because of what Mitch McConnell built," Stone said.
Paul hasn't said whether he would support McConnell's bid to remain minority leader in the Senate if elected. And, Paul made a sarcastic comment Wednesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe show when asked whether he and McConnell would campaign together in the fall.
He responded: "We are going to be best friends now. I'm putting him on a short list on my cell phone."
Others in the party think McConnell must reach out and welcome Paul.
"Hopefully he will do that and put this very negative campaign of Grayson's behind us," Richardson said.
McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer on Friday referred questions to Republican Party of Kentucky officials.
"There is no onus," Republican Party Chairman Steve Robertson said. "We are one family and we are moving forward."
Grayson spokesman Les Fugate said Grayson plans to attend as well. Grayson declined to comment through Fugate Friday.
At his concession speech Tuesday, Grayson vowed to do whatever Paul requests of him.
But J. Todd Inman, a Grayson supporter and member of the GOP state central committee, said he won't attend Saturday's rally.
"I don't really know what to expect tomorrow, because after a very long campaign sometimes people want to sit back and rest and evaluate where they are," he said.Reporter Stephenie Steitzer can be reached at (502) 875-5136.
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