Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Wednesday in speech at a historically black college in Washington that he has never wavered in his support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- an issue that cropped up in his 2010 Senate campaign and could once again if he runs for president in 2016.
During that 2010 campaign, Paul suggested that private businesses should not be forced to abide by the Civil Rights Act. He quickly clarified that he supported the act and would not want its repeal.
“No Republican questions or disputes civil rights," Paul said Wednesday. "I’ve never wavered in my support for civil rights or the Civil Rights Act.”
Paul explained that the question Republicans ask is to what extent federal government should be involved and how much should be left to the states. He noted the 14th Amendment was a case in which federal action was warranted.
At the same time, Paul recognized that his first foray into race relations as a politician was hardly a success.
"Here I am a guy who once presumed to discuss a section of the Civil Rights Act," Paul said. "It didn't always go so well."
Here are the 2010 comments on the Civil Rights Act that launched the controversy:
Paul delivered the speech at Howard University's School of Business, on the campus of one of the nation's premier historically black colleges. The speech was billed as an effort to reach out to young and minority voters who have eluded the GOP in recent elections.
Paul continues to build buzz for a potential 2016 presidential bid. Previously, he delivered a foreign policy address at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which is headed by former senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and earned acclaim on the right for waging a nearly 13-hour filibuster while seeking a clarification on the Obama administration's potential use of drones against American citizens.
The crowd at Howard, however, was clearly resistant to Paul's message. A protester with a banner using the words "white supremacy" was forcibly removed from the speech early on, and the crowd was taken aback during a later question-and-answer session when Paul asked whether they knew that the founders of the NAACP were Republicans.
"We know our history!" said one student.
"I don’t mean that to be insulting," Paul said. "I don’t know how much you know…”
Paul also defended the GOP's push in many states to require voters to provide identification at the polls -- something Democrats say is geared toward suppressing the black vote.
Paul said that people who compare providing driver's licenses to the voting abuses of the past, including requiring black voters to pass tests, "demean the horror of what happened."
One area of agreement between Paul and the crowd was on his bill seeking to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. When Paul mentioned it during his speech, most of the audience applauded.
Paul told a story about two people of different socio-economic and racial backgrounds who both used drugs, before revealing that the two people he talked about were former president George W. Bush and President Obama.
“We should not take away anyone’s future over one mistake," Paul said. "Barack Obama and George Bush were lucky. (If they had been arrested) neither one of them would have been employable, much less electable.”