Paul: No one in Congress has a ‘stronger belief in minority rights than I do’

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Thursday he’s committed to helping the GOP reach out to minority voters despite a controversy over a former aide's statements about the Civil War and race.

“I’m not easily dissuaded, so it’s not something that makes me shrink away,” Paul said in an interview with Yahoo! News. “It makes me come out even stronger to say that I don’t think there’s anyone in Congress who has a stronger belief in minority rights than I do.”

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Paul’s comments come a week after one of his aides, Jack Hunter, who previously worked as a shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger,” resigned over controversial statements he’s made in the past.

Hunter said President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had his heart “in the right place” when he killed the president, and said he raises “a personal toast every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth’s birthday.”

Hunter has also complained that whites are subject to a “racial double standard.”

In the interview, Paul, a likely 2016 GOP presidential contender, defended his minority rights record.

“My conception of justice is that there have been many times in our history when we have done things unfairly to Japanese Americans, to black Americans,” Paul said. “I still think that the justice system does not treat African Americans fairly in regard to non-violent drug crime, with regard to felonies being on your record.”

The Kentucky Republican pointed to legislation he’s worked on to reform drug sentences that disproportionately affect black men, and a bill he has in the works to reform the prison system.

“I think if you haven’t committed a crime in a certain period of time, you should be able to get your rights back,” Paul said. “So many African Americans, particularly young males, make mistakes as kids, and I don’t think they should be punished for the rest of their lives. So we’ll keep speaking out on these issues and we’ll see what happens.”

President Obama won 93 percent of the black vote in 2012, but Paul argued blacks should be a natural Republican constituency.

“There are millions and millions of African Americans who go to church and who are, in many ways, religiously conservative,” he said. “We need to ask them what would it take to get people in your congregation to consider voting for a Republican? Because one of the ironies is that if you go into any African American church in Chicago or any big city, they’re predominately social conservative.”

“If you were to poll African Americans just on issues without party, you would find that they are actually sympathetic to Republican issues on many fronts, but aren’t voting Republican,” he added. “I think some of it is because they sense either hostility or a lack of kinship or a lack of empathy coming from Republicans.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has been traveling around the country meeting with minority leaders in 2013 and has pledged to engage black and Hispanic voters year-round going forward.

“It’s not something you change overnight, so I’m not unrealistic about it,” Paul said.

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