Rand Paul Hurriedly Tries To Back Away From His Maddow Interview, Now Claims He Supports Civil Rights Act

Sure enough, no sooner had Rand Paul's revealing interview with Rachel Maddow hit the air than Paul began rapidly backtracking, trying to claim he didn't really believe the things he had gone on national television and said.

This morning he issued a petulant "clarification":

“I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.”

“As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years.”

“My opponent's statement on MSNBC Wednesday that I favor repeal of the Civil Rights Act was irresponsible and knowingly false. I hope he will correct the record and retract his claims.”

By mid-morning, according to Greg Sargent, he was in full-out "retraction" mode:

A spokesman for Rand Paul just clarified to me that the candidate does, in fact, believe that the Federal government should have the power to ban private businesses from discriminating based on race.

Paul had earlier claimed he didn't support that role for the Federal government, sparking a raging controversy. A statement he issued today in hopes of quieting the firestorm affirmed his support for the Civil Rights Act, but only said he backed it for stopping "discrimination in the public sphere."

Asked for further clarification, Jesse Benton, a spokesman for the Paul campaign, confirmed that Paul does in fact think the Federal government should have the power to ban private businesses from commiting racial discrimination. He told me:

"Civil Rights legislation that has been affirmed by our courts gives the Federal government the right to ensure that private businesses don't discriminate based on race. Dr. Paul supports those powers."

That's a reversal from what Paul said last night on Rachel Maddow's show. Maddow asked Paul to clarify his previous expressions of doubt about parts of the Civil Rights Act, querying: "Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don't serve black people?"

"Yes," Paul answered, repeatedly decrying racism but saying he was reluctant to "limit their speech."

But now Paul's campaign is clarifying that he does, in fact, think this is an appropriate role for the Federal government.

Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina ripped into Paul this morning on the Andrea Mitchell show on MSNBC, pointing out that Paul was confused about just which Civil Rights Act gave black people full civil rights -- beyond 1964, there were further acts in 1965, 1968, and 1972, all of which brought incremental change. But most of all, Paul seems not to understand why and how those laws came about, and particularly, the continuing need to safeguard the advances they represented -- not to roll them back to some libertarian utopia:

Clyburn: I would say to Dr. Paul that he needs to come clean with the American people and say exactly what it is he wants to do if he's elected to the United States Senate. He made himself the face and the spokesperson for the Tea Party movement at his victory party on Tuesday night. And then he set out the next morning, yesterday, to lay out the philosophy of that movement. And I think he made it very clear to the voters in America exactly what that movement is all about. They are parsing words, they are sending signals, they are saying things that ought to give all of us great pause.

Indeed. That's no doubt why Sen. Jim DeMint, guru of the Tea Party set and one of Paul's main supporters, is also backtracking as fast as he can, via ThinkProgess:

TP: Last night your candidate Rand Paul said that he would oppose the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

DEMINT: I haven’t seen the interview yet so –

TP: Do you agree with him? [...] But do you support the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it’s a simple question. [...] Sir, you have no comment on that?

DEMINT: Yes I do. No, I support the Civil Rights Act.

TP: What about the Americans with Disabilities Act? Rand Paul says he wants to abolish that as well.

DEMINT: I’m going to talk to Rand about his positions–

You will be excused if this interview evokes loud guffaws. Or even low mordant chuckles.

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