Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delivers remarks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Oct. 12, 2017. (Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency/Shutterstock )
Opinion writer

While somewhat overshadowed by the cringe-worthy efforts of two of his Senate colleagues to deny President Trump’s racist remarks, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made his own mind-numbing assertions in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Here’s the exchange:

CHUCK TODD: You know, during the campaign, you lamented the fact that when you got into the race, you were doing things like speaking at Howard [University], trying to show – expand the tent of the Republican Party. And try to beat back this stereotype about the Republican Party. And you lamented, at the time, the language candidate Trump has used. As president when he’s gone down these roads, you’ve actually pulled back and you’ve not gone after him for specific comments. You’ve hit him on policy, but not comments. Where are you on this?

SEN. RAND PAUL: You know, I don’t think the comments were constructive at all. But I also think that to be fair, we shouldn’t draw conclusions that he didn’t intend. I know personally about his feelings towards Haiti and towards Central America because when I was not a candidate for president and he wasn’t a candidate for president, I went down there on a medical mission trip.

I did about 200 cataract surgeries with a group of surgeons in Haiti and the same in Central America. And when we asked Donald J. Trump as a private citizen to support those trips, he was a large financial backer of both medical mission trips. So I think it’s unfair to sort of draw conclusions from a remark that I think wasn’t constructive, is the least we can say.

And I think it’s unfair then to sort of all of a sudden paint him, “Oh well, he’s a racist,” when I know, for a fact, that he cares very deeply about the people in Haiti because he helped finance a trip where we were able to get vision back for 200 people in Haiti.

It’s not “all of a sudden.” Paul seems to disregard decades of racist remarks and actions, including Trump’s “birther” campaign, his campaign against the Central Park Five (even after young men, four black and one Hispanic, were exonerated), his assertion that Mexico is sending rapists to the United States, his efforts to paint African American communities as crime-infested, his Muslim ban, etc.

Chuck Todd gamely plugged on:

CHUCK TODD: I guess, though, are you more disturbed though by the comment? It’s less about the vulgarity and more that he seemed to say, “Why can’t we have immigrants from Norway as opposed from African countries?” Look, I’ll tell you this, many non-white Americans hear, “Oh, so he wants white people, not black people.”

SEN. RAND PAUL: Right. But I think people jumped a little bit to a conclusion. Let’s take the whole scenario and put different words in there and let’s say, “We’d rather have people from economically-prosperous countries than economically-deprived countries.” Or, “We realize that there are more problems in economically-deprived countries, therefore there’s a bigger impetus for them to want to come.” Then it wouldn’t have been so controversial.

But it would have been wrong, since Paul assumes that people from poor countries are the dregs — just as Trump said Mexico doesn’t send us its “best” — or that we don’t need both skilled and unskilled workers. (Contradicting himself, Paul later acknowledged that “we also need people to pick tomatoes and who will work in the agricultural sector.”) The assertion that African immigrants are less educated and meritorious than immigrants from Norway — Trump and Paul’s assumption — is false.

The Houston Chronicle reported:

Nigerian immigrants have the highest levels of education in this city and the nation, surpassing whites and Asians, according to Census data bolstered by an analysis of 13 annual Houston-area surveys conducted by Rice University.

Although they make up a tiny portion of the U.S. population, a whopping 17 percent of all Nigerians in this country held master’s degrees while 4 percent had a doctorate, according to the 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, 37 percent had bachelor’s degrees.

Other data debunks the notion that African immigrants are less likely to contribute to America:

On the whole, about 43 percent of immigrants from all African countries over the age of 30 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, versus just 29 percent of the native-born over-30 population, confirming the view that African immigrants generally are actually a higher-skilled immigrant pool. … African immigrants average about 14 years of schooling, native-born Americans about 13.5 years, and [temporary protected status]-receiving-countries about 10.3 years.

Trump and Paul’s assumptions regarding immigrants from poor countries is belied by American history, in which groups as diverse as Jews from Russia in the 19th and early 20th centuries to Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s became prosperous participants in American society. As Inc. magazine explained:

Despite accounting for only about 13 percent of the population, immigrants now start more than a quarter of new businesses in this country. Fast-growing ones, too–more than 20 percent of the 2014 Inc. 500 CEOs are immigrants. Immigrant-owned businesses pay an estimated $126 billion in wages per year, employing 1 in 10 Americans who work for private companies. In 2010, immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $775 billion in sales. If immigrant America were a stock, you’d be an idiot not to buy it.

As the conversation continued, Todd challenged Paul about blaming not Trump but those pointing out Trump’s racism. Paul answered with a round of whataboutism. (“In 2013, Lindsey Graham said the exact same thing the president did, but he used the hell-hole,” he claimed, although I am unaware of any instance in which Graham expressed a preference for white Europeans over brown or black immigrants from other continents.)

Paul’s less-than-impressive outing should not be repeated. The idea that those who object to racism, not the ones uttering racist comments (or engaged in racial stereotyping), are the source of the problem is classic blame-the-victim gamesmanship. If a fix of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy fails, it will be because the president walked away from a bipartisan agreement senators had forged. If the government shuts down, it will be because Republicans could not get their own members (who have majorities in both houses) to keep it open and could not bring around the anti-immigration hard-liners on a DACA solution.

There should be bipartisan, unqualified condemnation of the president’s ongoing racist comments and a bipartisan agreement to allow “dreamers” to remain. If there is not, the American people — minus the Trump apologists — won’t have any difficulty identifying which party is responsible.