Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) is the only major Republican likely 2016 presidential candidate who hasn’t weighed in on the controversy over Indiana’s “religious freedom” law that erupted this week — and his explanation for avoiding the issue is questionable.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, spokespeople for Paul responded to questions from reporters by saying he “has not weighed in on the issue” because he was “out of pocket with family this week.” Paul, who is expected to officially launch his campaign on April 7, is currently on a vacation with his family in Florida.
However, while Paul’s team has said this trip has prevented him from weighing in on the “religious freedom” law controversy, he and his aides have issued at least three other public comments during his time in the Sunshine State.
Opponents of Indiana’s “religious freedom” law say it will promote anti-gay discrimination. Supporters say it simply protects religious practice from government interference. A huge backlash erupted after the law was signed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) last week. Following the firestorm, Pence pushed for a legislative fix to clarify that the law will not encourage anti-gay discrimination.
Paul’s political adviser Doug Stafford did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider about his position on the “religious freedom” law on Wednesday. The senator and his team have issued public comments on at least three occasions during his vacation this week as he avoided weighing in on the controversy.
On Monday, Paul attended a fundraiser for his campaign in Destin, Florida, where he is vacationing. At the event, he personally spoke with a reporter about the 2016 election. On Tuesday, Paul spokesperson Eleanor May talked to Buzzfeed for a story about his past statements on gay rights. And then on Wednesday, one of Paul’s aides discussed his support for an ethanol-friendly bill he is backing in the Senate.
All of this occurred while Paul’s team said he was “out of pocket” and unable to comment on the “religious freedom” law.
Paul spokesman Sergio Gor did not respond to an email from Business Insider asking why the senator has been able to comment on other issues, but not on the “religious freedom” law while on his vacation. Gor is the spokesman who told the New Republic that Paul was “out of pocket” and could not discuss the issue on Wednesday.
Business Insider also emailed Stafford about the apparent inconsistencies between Paul being “out of pocket” and his other public comments.
“What has he commented on in the last 48 hours?” Stafford asked.
After Business Insider sent a subsequent email outlining the public comments Paul and his aides have made during his trip, Stafford said the sentator “isn’t closely following” the controversy and has “no comment” on it.
“Spokespeople commenting on old issues and a private fundraiser? That’s him commenting on other matters? That’s a bit of a stretch. He hasn’t read the IN bill, and isn’t closely following something being done on the state level, especially during his time with his family this week,” Stafford wrote. “Therefore we have no comment at this time. I am sure he will have plenty of opportunities to answer everyone’s questions very soon.”
The “religious freedom” law may be a sticky subject for Paul. In the past, he has had difficulty balancing act between his libertarian leanings and supporting the right to discriminate.
Paul previously stepped into nationwide controversy on a similar issue when he was campaigning for the Senate in 2010. Shortly after winning his Republican primary, he gave a now-famous interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who repeatedly pressed him on whether private businesses should have the right to deny services to African-American or gay customers.
Maddow initially played a clip of Paul telling the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board about his disagreements with the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“I don’t like the idea of telling private businesses owners [whom they can serve]. I abhor racism, I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I think there should be absolutely no discrimination on anything that gets any public funding,” he said.
After Maddow pressed him about his views on the subject, Paul suggested again that businesses should have the right to discriminate. However, Paul also stressed that he would never go to such a business himself.
“I’m not in favour of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race,” Paul replied. “We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But I think what’s important about this debate is is not getting into any specific ‘gotcha’ question on this, but asking the question: ‘What about freedom of speech?’ Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking? I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way.”
This post was updated with Stafford’s final email at 7:19 p.m.
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