Lamar Alexander: I Can Still Support Rand Paul

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on "Face the Nation," May 23, 2010.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a member of the Republican leadership, said on "Face the Nation" Sunday that he can support Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul despite the "mistake" Paul made in offering less than full support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"Even a very good baseball player sometimes has a hard time going from AAA to the major leagues," Alexander said of Paul, who recently won his primary campaign over the GOP's preferred candidate. "And that's what happened to him last week. If he'll stick to the jobs, debt and terror and providing a check-and-balance on a runaway government in Washington, he'll be the next Republican senator. We'll be glad to have him."

Host Bob Schieffer noted that in addition to suggesting the Civil Rights Act may have overreached by telling private businesses they can't discriminate based on race, Paul has questioned the Americans with Disabilities Act and discussed abolishing the Federal Reserve and Department of Education.

After calling Paul's comments on the Civil Rights Act a "mistake" and noting that there are already senators who want to "get rid of the Fed," Alexander invoked Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats) as a corollary to Paul.

"We've got a Democratic caucus with nearly 60 votes that includes a very nice senator from Vermont who proudly describes himself as a socialist," he said. "So a little check and balance in the Senate wouldn't be a bad thing."

Schieffer noted that the GOP is trying to broaden its appeal to African-Americans and asked how any member of a minority group could back a candidate who questions the Civil Rights Act. [Following his comments, Paul said he wouldn't vote to repeal the Act but did not explicitly state that he agrees with it in its entirety.]

Alexander noted that he has backed three civil rights acts and that he got 25 percent of the African-American vote in 2008, despite President Obama's presence on the ticket.

"We have plenty of Republican candidates who will get plenty of African-American votes," he said. "I think Rand Paul had a tough week last week. If he'll focus on providing a check-and-balance on a runaway Washington government he'll be fine - he'll be elected."

Alexander suggested the Tea Party movement, which backed Paul, is on balance a good thing for the GOP, even though Tea Party candidates are taking on mainstream Republican candidates.

"When you have a lot of energy, Bob, out there in the country, one party or the other is going to attract it," Alexander said. "…We want that energy in our party. I think we're getting it. And it's going to produce some surprises. And several new faces."