Updated at 6:17 p.m. ET
Responding toover whether he supports government protections against racial discrimination in private businesses, Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul released a statement today making clear he supports the Civil Rights Act and would not support any efforts to repeal or change it.
"I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation," Paul said in the statement. "Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
He added: "Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws."
Paul's position on the Civil Rights Act first came into question during an interview last month with the Louisville Courier-Journal.
"I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I'm all in favor of that," he said. "I don't like the idea of teling private business owners -- I abhor racism... I do believe in private ownership."
His positionyesterday after he explained his position on NPR and then danced around the question of a private company's right to discriminate during an appearance on MSNBC.
His Democratic opponent in the race, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, said on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon that Paul has said he wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today echoed Paul's remarks that there's no need to revisit the legitimacy of the Civil Rights Act.
"I think the issues that many fought for in the 50's and 60's were settled a long time ago in landmark legislation, and discussions about whether or not you support those shouldn't have a place in our political dialogue in 2010," Gibbs told reporters.
UPDATE: This year was not the first time Paul has expressed his opinion that private businesses should be free to discriminate if they choose to do so. A Kentucky political blog points to a letter to the editor Paul sent in 2002 to the Bowling Green Daily News about the Federal Fair Housing Act.
"Should it be prohibited for public, taxpayer-financed institutions such as schools to reject someone based on an individual's beliefs or attributes? Most certainly," Paul wrote. "Should it be prohibited for private entities such as a church, bed and breakfast or retirement neighborhood that doesn't want noisy children? Absolutely not."
Meanwhile, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, released a statement today calling Paul's remarks "deeply troubling."
"Rand Paul's comments are inconsistent and based on his earlier remarks, there is doubt about whether or not he is truly committed to preserving civil rights legislation," she said.
Paul's full statement is below:
I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.
As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years.
My opponent's statement on MSNBC Wednesday that I favor repeal of the Civil Rights Act was irresponsible and knowingly false. I hope he will correct the record and retract his claims.
The issue of civil rights is one with a tortured history in this country. We have made great strides, but there is still work to be done to ensure the great promise of Liberty is granted to all Americans.
This much is clear: The federal government has far overreached in its power grabs. Just look at the recent national healthcare schemes, which my opponent supports. The federal government, for the first time ever, is mandating that individuals purchase a product. The federal government is out of control, and those who love liberty and value individual and state's rights must stand up to it.
These attacks prove one thing for certain: the liberal establishment is desperate to keep leaders like me out of office, and we are sure to hear more wild, dishonest smears during this campaign.
Results from Tuesday's races: