Rand Paul revels in role of Senate troublemaker

Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPaul clashes with Booker, Harris over anti-lynching bill Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill Democratic senator to offer amendment halting 'military weaponry' given to police 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 AmashMark Cuban says he's decided not to run for president Amash readying legislation allowing victims to sue officers The Hill's Morning Report - Trump mobilizes military against 'angry mob,' holds controversial photo op MORE (R-Mich.) and Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieHouse holds first-ever proxy votes during pandemic House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting House adopts historic rules changes to allow remote voting 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 McConnellOvernight Energy: US Park Police say 'tear gas' statements were 'mistake' | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump juggles three crises ahead of November election Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats 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 CornynGOP chairmen stake out turf in Obama-era probes Cornyn presses DOJ to release results of investigation into Larry Nassar probe Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform 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 ThuneOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump GOP shifting on unemployment benefits as jobless numbers swell MORE (S.D.) called it a “colossal waste of everyone’s time.”

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGraham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over GOP votes to give chairman authority to subpoena Obama officials Democratic senator to skip vote on Obama-era subpoenas 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 RyanTwitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world John Ratcliffe is the right choice for director of national intelligence — and for America MORE (R-Wis.) of selling “a bill of goods” to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSheldon Whitehouse leads Democrats into battle against Trump judiciary GOP lawmaker calls on Senate to confirm Michael Pack as head of US media agency McConnell blocks resolution condemning Trump over treatment of protesters 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.