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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Now - Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican and potential presidential candidate. Yesterday we heard from Iowa Republicans about them. They see him as a more viable candidate with broader appeal than his father, Ron Paul. Today, a conversation with Rand Paul. I spoke with him this morning at his office on Capitol Hill.
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SIEGEL: Senator Paul, welcome to the program.
SENATOR RAND PAUL: Glad to be with you.
SIEGEL: Hope to ask you about your view of the role of America in the world and the federal government in our lives. And let's start with the speech the president gave last night. First, is the president's strategy without congressional approval unconstitutional?
PAUL: Yeah, the Constitution's pretty clear. All of the discussion at the time of the Constitution was that they very specifically delegated the power to declare war to Congress. They did not want war to be engaged in by the executive without approval of Congress.
SIEGEL: Does that mean you oppose it on those grounds, or do you try to sue? What do you - how do you express that belief?
PAUL: In this particular instance, I do support combating ISIS. I think that ISIS is a threat to our embassy, to our consulate, as well as potentially to the American people. So I support the effort. I think he's just going about it the wrong way.
SIEGEL: And Senator Paul, in your view of U.S. foreign policy, do you see U.S. actions in Iraq or Syria as being justified solely by the potential threat of attacks against the United States or Americans? Or to concerns like regional stability in the Middle East or threats against Jordan or Israel? Can those justify U.S. military action as well?
PAUL: I think that all enters into the decision-making process, but basically military intervention should be done constitutionally and in the deliberations, there should be discussion of whether or not there's a vital American interest. I would say that the previous engagements in Libya and in Syria have led to a safe haven for ISIS. One of the points the president made in his speech was that one of the core principles of his administration would be that no one who threatens the United States would have safe haven. I would make the argument that ISIS has had a safe haven for the last two years precisely because of our intervention in Syria. Not only our arming of the rebels, but Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait. Think back to a year ago when the president wanted to bomb Syria to degrade Assad and many were calling for a regime change - let's degrade him to such an extent that the rebels when. Who do you think would be in Damascus today ruling Syria? Probably ISIS.
SIEGEL: So you're saying that we really have gone too far in the way of aiding the so-called moderate Syrian rebels?
PAUL: We've gone too far thinking we can re-create an American democratic paradise in the Middle East. What we have done is we have time and time again toppled secular dictators and they've been replaced by chaos. Libya is a perfect example. So what I would say is Libya, because of President Obama's intervention to topple a secular dictator, is now less safe and actually more of a threat to America.
SIEGEL: Does that translate to a foreign policy approach that says, let's be more realistic, there may be a thuggish regime somewhere that offends our moral sense by all of its actions, but if it's stable and it prevents even more radical groups from coming to power, we should live with it and accept it?
PAUL: I think we do have to be more realistic in our approach worldwide. And we have to look at the question of stability and whether we get more or less. Both Republican and Democrat interventions have all led to more chaos and more threats to America. There is a greater threat of radical Islam attacking the U.S. than there was before.
SIEGEL: I want to ask you about your view of the federal government and the economy. It's been widely reported that economic inequality has grown in the U.S. over recent decades. In your view, is that a problem that the federal government in Washington is obliged to try to solve?
PAUL: I think inequality can be a problem. And interestingly, seems to be getting a little bit worse under this administration. Income inequality is worse in towns run by Democrat mayors than it is in towns run by Republican mayors. So there are some evidence that we have income inequality, but then you have to ask, what's the cause of it? For example, let's say you're a multimillionaire and you get a $500 million loan from the government to build solar panels. Would that be aiding income inequality? I'm an ordinary middle-class guy; I don't get a $500 million loan from the government. So some would argue that government aids and abets income inequality and the marketplace has income inequality, but it's based on you pleasing someone.
SIEGEL: But just to be clear, should reducing inequality be a policy aim of the federal government? If you were the president would you say, that's one of the things my policies have to accomplish? I'll be flexible to achieve that. Or, my aim is to reduce the interference of government in people's lives and that may or may not reduce inequality?
PAUL: I would say that the policy aim of government absolutely should be that government should not contribute to income inequality. So one of the things that people object to - and I object to strenuously - is a person who wins office and then gives special favors to their contributors.
SIEGEL: On the other end of the income scale - the minimum wage. Is that a reasonable thing the government should do to try to prevent people from sinking far below the poverty line?
PAUL: I think like most policies that are well intended, we need to look at the intentions of the policy and then the outcome of the policy. The people who get hurt the most when you raise the minimum wage are the people with the least skills or the most animus towards them getting started in the marketplace. So the person who is most affected, the unemployment that rises the fastest and steepest with raising the minimum wage, is black teenagers.
SIEGEL: I don't hear you making a philosophical argument, that there's something that's just out of bounds about the federal government.
PAUL: Well, that is what the argument is, is whether it works. You should want to know whether something works. If we make the minimum wage $25 will more people or less people work? I think it's without question there'd be less jobs. 80 out 100 studies in the last 10 years that have been looked at showed that you do lose jobs even when you incrementally raise the minimum wage.
SIEGEL: So you would have no problem with a $6 an hour minimum wage, if there were no studies showing that it cost people jobs?
PAUL: Right. In general terms you could say that any minimum wage that does not exceed the market wage would not be harmful to employment.
SIEGEL: One other question. One other issue - immigration. Should the United States be passing some kind of legislation now that would in some way provide a path to legal status of millions of people who are living here undocumented today?
PAUL: I've always said I'm in favor of some immigration reform. I've also said that the most important thing about immigration reform is that if there's any component of forgiveness - basically, a component that allows legal status, work status - for people who have come here illegally, it can only be done if you secure the border first. The reasoning is is that if you offer any sort of beacon of forgiveness without having a secure border, everyone will come.
SIEGEL: But Senator Paul, I mean, you point out all kinds of unintended consequences of other policies, whether they're in combating terrorism in the Middle East or raising the minimum wage, but you're talking about securing the border as though you can write a law that secures the border with Mexico and it's secure. There's a lot of evidence showing it doesn't succeed.
PAUL: The interesting thing about security is, I don't envision security being a 20 foot tall wall. What I can envision security is a functioning legal immigration system. So for example, 400,000 people come here to pick crops from other countries and I'm for that. The Senate bill limited it to a 100,000. So what would be the end result of that? If you limited below what the market wants and what the market usually gets, you're going to have 300,000 people come here illegally. They will come. If there are jobs and no one will take them they will come.
And so what you really need to secure the border is an expansive work visa program. And so really, security isn't always just spending money on walls, it's getting a functioning, legal immigration system.
SIEGEL: When will you tell us if you're running for president?
PAUL: Not today (laughter).
SIEGEL: Not today? I'd give you the air time right now, if you want to do it.
PAUL: Yeah, I know. We're thinking about it and it'd be probably in the spring we'll make our final decision.
SIEGEL: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, thank you very much for talking with us.
PAUL: Thank you.
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