By Mike Lillis
Promoting Republican outreach to Hispanics, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said this week that the GOP must expand its appeal if it expects to remain politically relevant.
"The party has to be bigger across the country, not only appealing to people of various ethnic background but various economic backgrounds," Paul said Friday during a sweep through Texas, CNN reported.
Paul, a conservative firebrand who's long-been critical of establishment Republicans like the Bush family, declined to endorse the younger Bush, CNN reported. But he praised Bush's Spanish-language prowess as one key to attracting a broader swath of voters to the GOP's tent.
“The fact that he is a fluent Spanish speaker and spoken to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, it’s good for our party,” Paul said. “I think having people who are trying to make the party bigger is good."
GOP leaders have struggled for years to attract the nation's ever-growing number of Hispanic voters. Indeed, President Obama won more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in both 2008 and 2012. The figures have led national GOP leaders, including Jeb Bush, to warn congressional Republicans that unless they move on immigration reform legislation, the party will struggle mightily to win the White House in 2016 and beyond.
Whether Republicans take that advice this year remains an open question. While the Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill with broad bipartisan support last summer, House GOP leaders have refused to take it up.
Moving at their own pace, House Republicans unveiled a set of immigration reform "principles" this month, lending reform supporters some hope that the lower chamber will vote on the issue this year. More recently, however, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he's in no hurry to bring the matter to the floor, blaming Obama for the GOP's reluctance to act.
"The American people, including many of my members, don't trust that the reform that we're talking about will be implemented as it was intended to be," Boehner explained to reporters Thursday.
Paul opposed the Senate-passed immigration bill. But last month, he suggested it remains among the few issues on which the sides could find agreement this year.
"We don't agree on the whole comprehensive package of the Democrats but I'll bet you about half of it we agree on," Paul said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "And the question is, are we willing to narrow our focus and go after things that we can agree to and get them done or are we going to stay so polarized that we always have to have our way or the highway?
"So I think there is a way to pass legislation," he said.