NEWPORT — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul stood before nearly 200 fans Saturday afternoon and made clear his intentions to force the expiration of the Patriot Act when the U.S. Senate meets for a rare session Sunday.
"The way the rules of the Senate work may mean that they don't let me speak at all," Paul said. "But they will have to ask for one thing, they will have to ask for unanimous consent, and I will not give unanimous consent."
Paul, hosting a book signing and rally to announce the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie for his presidential campaign, drew applause as he spoke about his opposition to the law, emphasizing that the U.S. Constitution should be adequate in protecting the nation against terrorist attacks.
Before the rally, Paul was asked by the Herald-Leader if he would bear any responsibility should terrorists attack the homeland after he forced the expiration of the Patriot Act.
Never miss a local story.
The senator said blaming him would be a "ridiculous notion."
"When we look at terrible tragedy, you know 9/11 or when we look at the tragedy of the Boston bombing, the people who deserve the rebuke and who deserve the repercussions are the people who committed the act," Paul said. "I mean, no one else is responsible other than the people who commit terror."
But Paul was dismissive when asked if that same standard applies to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, has been a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
"What I would say is that when we talk about policy and we talk about whether or not we need to protect our embassies overseas, that there is some decision-making process and some responsibility," he said. "But to say that we can't capture terrorists and we can't prevent terrorists by using the Constitution is I think a false assumption."
Paul's war against the more hawkish wing of the Republican Party has escalated in recent days as he has repeatedly foiled attempts by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass an extension of the anti-terror law.
Massie, a close ally of Paul's efforts in the U.S. House of Representatives, has been keeping watch over the House in Washington despite a lawmaker recess, concerned that Republican leaders would pass an extension or substitute legislation on a voice vote.
Massie told the Herald-Leader that he was leaving the Paul event, and skipping the statewide GOP Lincoln Day dinner in Lexington on Saturday night, to fly back to Washington and "guard the floor."
Taking a page from Paul's super PAC, which this past week released an ad characterizing the Sunday debate as a wrestling match, Massie told the crowd that Paul was like a mixed-martial arts fighter walking into a ring of phony professional wrestlers.
"So what happens when an MMA fighter walks in the ring with a bunch of posers?" Massie asked. "They're going to get their butt kicked."
The crescendo of Paul's battle against the law has increased the chorus of questions about whether he can hope to win the nomination of the party that introduced, passed and long defended the Patriot Act.
On Saturday, the senator told his fans that the media has been "coming up to me all week and saying 'you're running against the Republican Party.'"
"I say 'look, come meet the Republican Party,'" Paul said. "You can't meet the Republican Party in D.C. You've gotta leave D.C. to find the Republican Party. You've got to leave D.C. to find America."
The senator also fired back at the White House, which has fought to maintain the government's surveillance powers, by calling President Barack Obama a "hypocrite."
"This is a president that once upon a time stood up on the Senate floor against the Patriot Act and now has become a hypocrite," Paul said. "Now he's blaming me for this."
He added: "If I'm ever lucky enough to be in the White House, on Day One, I will end the collection of all Americans' records."
Paul told the crowd that he is still in favor of tracking the phone records of terrorists and people associated with terrorists.
"All I ask is one simple thing: Obey the Fourth Amendment," Paul said.