In a news conference call this afternoon, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) clarified that his immigration idea would give work visas to those here illegally, but he would not bar such immigrants from obtaining citizenship so long as “they get in line.”


Sen. Rand Paul (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Paul struggled valiantly to tell the media that haggling over terms like “path to citizenship” and “amnesty” gets the debate nowhere. “[The debate] is trapped in a couple of words — ‘path to citizenship’ and ‘amnesty,’ ” he said. Taking a shot at the anti-immigration advocates, he said later in the call, “Everybody who doesn’t want anything to move forward calls anything they don’t like a ‘path to citizenship’ and ‘amnesty.’” (He’s got that one right.) Sounding a tad forlorn, he then asked, “Can’t we just call it reform?”

He tried to keep his eye on the big picture, telling the media that it was a big deal because “I’m a conservative Republican who says we need to go forward.”

He also clarified a number of other points. His plan differs from others circulating in requiring a yearly congressional vote to certify border security. But once that is obtained, he would ease the way “to normalize the people here.” In response to my question on fines, back taxes and other penalties, he said, “I’m not as a big a stickler” on those items. He noted that at the work visa stage many people are of modest means and such requirements could mean “you’d never be able to do it.”

As for citizenship, he went around and around with reporters, reiterating in response to each variation on the same question that for citizenship the new visa holders would “get in line” or “go to the back of the line.” He referred to the “existing” line but allowed that there had to be discussion about country limits, how many people are in line, how long they must wait, etc.

He also indicated he was open to “rethinking” his opposition to granting citizenship to children brought here illegally if the border security issue can be resolved.

Almost as interesting were his remarks on two other matters.

Referring to his comments in his immigration speech on “traditional values,” I asked whether he had changed his view that marriage is a state issue. He replied, “Marriage is a state issue. It should remain so.” (Well the anti-gay marriage gang really is having a dreadful time of it, huh?)

He also was asked about the Republican National Committee’s outreach proposals released yesterday. He was enthusiastic about the $10 million plan to conduct extensive minority outreach. “I’m all for it,” he said. “I’ve been talking about it [minority outreach] for months.” He then spoke in moving fashion about the Republican history with African Americans that has been “lost” — passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments; ending Jim Crow; and Louisville, Kentucky’s African American population that was 90 percent Republican in 1930. He says that needs to be talked about with African American voters. More importantly, he said that with regard to all minority groups, “You need to show up and ask for their vote.”

In confounding both the right and the left on issue after issue, Paul continues to be one of the most interesting political figures around. Whether his brand of legislation makes it into law or he runs for the presidency is in the future. For now, however, he is shaking things up on everything from immigration to marriage to drone warfare.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.