Rand Paul revels in role of Senate troublemaker

Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHow conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle Rand Paul's exchange with Fauci was exactly what America needed MORE seems to revel in frustrating fellow members of the Senate — and that makes his blatant disregard for the chamber’s chummy protocols even more infuriating to them.

Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky, appeared to thumb his nose at fellow Republicans Thursday night when he posed for a picture with conservative Reps. Justin AmashJustin AmashDemocrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle Michigan candidate's daughter urges people not to vote for him in viral tweet Can Trump break his 46 percent ceiling? MORE (R-Mich.) and Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieBiggs, Massie call on Trump to remove troops from Afghanistan Massie wins House GOP primary despite Trump call to be ousted from party Rep. Massie called out by primary opponent for previous display of Confederate flag MORE (R-Ky.) just off the Senate floor. 

They posed with their arms folded, grinning for the camera in the midst of a government shutdown fight that Paul himself had triggered.  

The snapshot was especially galling to Republicans because the trio posed in front of the Senate portrait of Henry Clay, the 19th century Kentucky senator known as the "Great Compromiser.” Clay is the historical hero of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November Teacher's union puts million behind ad demanding funding for schools preparing to reopen MORE (R-Ky.), who negotiated the budget deal that Paul was trashing. 

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“[Paul is] the perennial annoying gadfly with no positivity associating with it. What he did didn’t change the outcome. He’s all about grandstanding,” said a Senate Republican aide. 

“Taking selfies with Justin Amash and Thomas Massie — he just is the perennial annoyance,” the aide added. “He’s here to go on television and that’s what he kept doing. It’s about self promotion.”

Al Cross, a journalism professor at the University of Kentucky and a longtime commentator on Kentucky politics, said Paul’s actions likely don’t sit well with the GOP leader, even if he doesn’t say anything about it publicly. 

“There’s no doubt that it gets his nose out of joint, but he’s dealt with Rand Paul for a long time and he’s pretty accustomed to it,” Cross said of McConnell.

But Paul doesn’t care if he’s making his colleagues uncomfortable. 

He says he wouldn’t have delayed the budget deal if GOP leaders had merely allowed him a vote on restoring the spending caps that the deal was setting aside.

Leaders said if they allowed Paul a vote other senators would then demand votes on their own amendments, delaying the bill even longer. 

Still, many Republicans didn't want to vote against reimposing spending caps that they had declared a major victory only a few short years ago, when they fought with the Obama administration over spending cuts.

“You could feel the frustration and embarrassment growing in Congress as we exposed the hypocrisy of Republicans who are joining in an unholy alliance and spending free-for-all with Democrats,” Paul tweeted Thursday night.

Members of the Senate are accustomed to the opposing party forcing them to take tough votes, rather than a member of their own conference. 

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad Chamber of Commerce endorses Cornyn for reelection George Floyd and the upcoming Texas Democratic Senate runoff MORE (R-Texas) fumed that Paul’s tactics were “grossly irresponsible” and “bad behavior” that he didn’t want to reward by making any concessions.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneClash looms over next coronavirus relief bill Trump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Republicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names MORE (S.D.) called it a “colossal waste of everyone’s time.”

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRomney, Collins, Murkowski won't attend GOP convention Grassley won't attend GOP convention amid coronavirus uptick Trump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP MORE (R-Wis.) called the whole episode another example of the Senate’s “dysfunction,” labeling it “ridiculous.”

But Paul gets energy from riling up his colleagues on points of principle and refused to back down, even though it was clear that the budget deal had the votes to pass. 

“They’re mad that they have to do their jobs,” said Brian Darling, a GOP strategist and former Paul aide.

Darling said his former boss doesn’t care about upsetting his fellow senators. 

“He cares more about doing the right thing, not going along to get along. Members were really angry with him but he has the right to do what he did. 

“Congress waits until the last minute to do their appropriations bill and then challenges a single member to object. They’re doing this on purpose to bully members to get bad bills passed,” he said. 

Paul doubled down Friday with an op-ed that called his colleagues “hypocrites.”

“We now control the House, Senate and White House, and we should stand for less government and less spending,” he wrote in Time. “Instead, we see a massive increase that would make President Obama cringe.” 

Paul said he expected “a lot of tired staffers” would try to feed media stories “about how I wouldn’t play nice with them and let them get their massive spending bill in secret.”

He said didn’t regret how things played out.

“People tuned in to TV, followed on social media, and had the debate trending number one all night,” he noted.

Thursday was only the latest example of Paul sticking his finger in the eye of Republicans leadership.

He was a thorn in the side of leaders during last year’s health-care debate, when he declared on television the GOP plan to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act was “ObamaCare-lite” and a “bailout" for insurance companies. 

At one point, he accused Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBush, Romney won't support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world MORE (R-Wis.) of selling “a bill of goods” to President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE in the health-care debate.

Paul was later one of a handful of Senate Republicans to vote against the ObamaCare repeal and replace plan that passed the House, and that McConnell had spent weeks negotiating with his conference.

In December, Paul panned the short-term spending proposal that GOP leaders advanced to keep the government open as “reckless deficit spending.”

For Paul, playing the role of maverick is good politics.

A Mason-Dixon poll of registered voters in Kentucky in December showed that he has a substantial better job rating than McConnell, the ultimate Republican team player. 

The survey showed Paul with a 44 percent job approval rating, while only 30 percent approved of McConnell’s performance.

Paul’s one-man revolt on the budget deal was also a hit with conservatives.

“A senator has an ability to be a voice and not just a vote,” said Daniel Horowitz, senior editor of Conservative Review. “He’s able to give to the forgotten man … the average American taxpayer.”

“When the political class of both parties get together and decide they’re going to get a specific outcome there’s no way to thwart that outcome in the short run. But the only thing worse than screwing taxpayers is screwing them and having no one find out about it,” he added.

Senators thought Thursday would be a routine day after McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerA renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Trump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? MORE (N.Y.) announced they had reached a two-year budget deal that gained swift support from Ryan in the House.

They needed consent from everyone in the chamber to speed up the procedural clock and vote in the morning and afternoon in time to catch flights back home for an early weekend.

But Paul surprised them all by digging in his heels and delaying a vote until 1:30 a.m. after McConnell refused to give in to his demand for a separate vote on budget caps.

The frustration with Paul spread to the other side of the Capitol, where members of the House had to stay on call until 5 a.m. Friday morning to receive the bill and pass it, something they expected to happen hours earlier.

One frustrated Republican lawmaker, Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: WHO vs. Trump; Bernie's out The biggest political upsets of the decade Ex-GOP lawmaker: Former colleagues privately say they're 'disgusted and exhausted' by Trump MORE (Pa.), quipped he could sympathize with Rene Boucher, Paul’s neighbor in Bowling Green, Ky., who allegedly tackled the senator over a landscaping dispute.

“When Rand Paul pulls a stunt like this, it’s easy to understand why it’s difficult to be Rand Paul’s next-door neighbor,” Dent told Politico.

Paul’s office didn’t find that remark at all humorous. The assault gave Paul broken ribs.

“That comment is disgusting and Charlie Dent should apologize. Senator Rand Paul will always stand up for what is right, regardless of which party is in control,” said Paul’s spokesman Sergio Gor.  

“He successfully brought much-needed attention to the hypocrisy in the halls of Congress when it comes to out-of-control spending,” he added.