Ordinarily, when there are questions about where a politician stands on a given issue, he or she will deliver a speech and clarify matters. But sometimes, even after the speech, we still can't be sure.
Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) sent out word Monday night that he would deliver remarks on Tuesday endorsing comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. Soon after, Paul aides backed off, saying the senator's position was more nuanced. The Republican eventually delivered the speech, and still left everyone wondering. The New York Times felt compelled to say Paul "strongly implied" his support for citizenship provisions in a reform plan.
So, where does that leave us? Rand Paul apparently supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States, but he doesn't want to say he supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the United States.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) supports allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, receive legal status and eventually apply to become citizens. But he would rather not use the term "pathway to citizenship," he said Tuesday.
The senator eventually told reporters he doesn't want to "get trapped too much" in "descriptive terms."
There is an explanation for the rhetorical acrobatics. For many on the right, "amnesty" was a word intended to shut down debate over immigration policy, so Republicans were conditioned to reject it. But as the debate progressed, conservatives grew to hate the "pathway to citizenship" phrase, too, leading politicians like Paul -- a darling of Tea Party activists -- to avoid it, even when they endorse the substance of it.
In other words, Paul wants to be part of a constructive policy solution, without getting yelled at by the far-right GOP base. No Profile in Courage Award for you, senator.
That said, the fact that the Kentucky Republican is now on board with comprehensive immigration reform is itself a dramatic development, not just because reform proponents just picked up another high-profile ally, but also because Rand Paul looked to be a lost cause on the issue.
Joe Sonka had a great piece yesterday with a refresher for those of us who'd forgotten just how anti-immigrant Paul has been in recent years.
One of Rand Paul's first acts as a U.S. senator was to sponsor a constitutional amendment aimed at stopping "anchor babies," gutting the 14th amendment to prevent all of those Mexican ladies from giving birth to U.S. citizens.
When he was running for Senate, he also described the incredibly popular DREAM Act -- which would provide a path to citizenship for those brought to America by their immigrant parents as a child -- like so: "Washington liberals are trying to push through the so-called DREAM Act, which creates an official path to Democrat voter registration for 2 million college-age illegal immigrants," said Paul, also referring to the bill as "the Washington elitists' roundabout way of giving amnesty to illegal immigrant students and undermining the rule of law."
Paul also liked to use the noun "illegals" to describe these criminal "threats to our national security" who mooched off our welfare system, which is why he consistently supported Arizona's draconian SB 1070 law.
And if you look at Sen. Paul's government website this morning, you'll see that he even wants to go the extra step of "making English the official language of all documents and contracts," so you "illegals" can take your tilde and go back to where you came from.
Adam Serwer added that Paul also used to endorse the bizarre "Amero" conspiracy -- a concept cooked up by the far-right fringe that said there was a secret plan to merge Canada, the United States, and Mexico and create a "borderless mass continent" under a single currency called the "Amero."
As recently as 2011, Paul co-sponsored legislation to end the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship.
I won't speculate as to why the Republican senator has changed his mind so dramatically, but it's nevertheless clear yesterday's Rand Paul bears no resemblance to the Rand Paul of a couple of years ago, at least when it comes to immigration policy.