Rand Paul Stance at Issue in Fiery Political Debate

DNC, RNC chairmen take on big political issues on 'This Week.'

May 23, 2010, 10:33 AM

May 23, 2010— -- Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he was not comfortable with Rand Paul's views on civil rights.

Steele's comments came during a fiery debate with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine on "This Week."

Paul, who won the Republican Senate primary in Kentucky on Tuesday, drew criticism for his comments suggesting the 1964 Civil Rights Act perhaps was too expansive in insisting private businesses not discriminate.

"I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains," Paul said in April.

"I abhor racism, I think it's a bad business decision to ever exclude anyone from your restaurant," he told the Louisville Courier Journal, "but at the same time I do believe in private ownership."

"There's 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act," Paul said earlier this week. "One deals with private institutions, and had I been around I would have tried to modify that."

ABC News' Jake Tapper asked Steele, "Are you comfortable with" Paul's views?

"I'm not comfortable with a lot of things," Steele said. "But it doesn't matter what I'm comfortable with and not comfortable with. I don't vote in that election."

"It sounds like you're not comfortable with it," Tapper said.

"I just said I wasn't comfortable with it," Steele replied.

Steele emphasized that Paul had clarified his comments and supported civil rights.

"I think it's important to understand that Rand Paul has clarified his statement and reiterated his support for ... pushing civil rights forward, as opposed to going backwards," Steele told Tapper. "Any attempt to look backwards is not in the best interest of our country certainly, and certainly not in the best interest of the party."

Steele said Rand Paul's views on civil rights is part of a "philosophical position" that is also "held by a lot of libertarians, which Rand Paul is. They have a very, very strong view about the limitations of government intrusion into the private sector. That is a philosophical perspective."

Kaine said that Paul's statements will make the seat easier for his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, to win in November.

Rand Paul Denounces 'Blame Game Society' on Oil Spill: 'Accidents Happen'

Kaine referenced "Rand Paul's views on [the Civil Rights Act and] his statement this week that he thinks it's un-American for President Obama to hold British Petroleum accountable for the spill in the Gulf."

Paul told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" on Friday that he didn't like the White House policy towards BP.

"What I don't like from the president's administration is this sort of 'I'll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'" he said. "I think it's part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it's always got to be someone's fault, instead of the fact that maybe accidents happen."

On "This Week," Steele said, "People shouldn't worry about the Republican response to the BP oil spill. They should worry about the Democrat[ic] president's response to the BP oil spill."

"The federal government should have stepped into this thing immediately to help make sure that the appropriate steps were being taken by BP [and] all federal agencies in support of the state government to try to get this thing cleaned up," Steele said. "And here we are almost a month and a half later and it's still spilling oil."

"Rand Paul is wrong," Kaine said. "It isn't un-American to hold somebody accountable for a massive environmental disaster."

Kaine also hit Paul for his comments about other federal regulations.

"Saying, as Rand Paul did ... that we needn't be so worried about things like mining regulations, I mean, this is a very important role the government has: to protect the safety of the environment and the health of citizens," Kaine said. "Rand Paul's statements along these lines are very, very troubling."

On the other hot-button political issue of the week, Kaine said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's statements indicating he served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War were "wrong."

"Those statements were wrong, period. They were wrong," Kaine said. "And it was very important for him to acknowledge that and clear that up."

Blumenthal is considered the frontrunner in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary to be held on Aug. 10. He was endorsed by the state's Democratic convention on Friday.

Steele decried the "credibility gap" that Blumenthal had opened up.

"At a time when the American people are clearly rebelling against the same-old, same-old in politicians," Steele said, "Blumenthal is not the kind of guy I think they want to send anywhere, let alone to Washington to serve at this time, so I think there is a big credibility gap here."

Blumenthal's misstatements were first reported by The New York Times online on Monday.

Who Wins the House in November?

Steele said that despite a recent loss in Pennsylvania's 12th district, Republicans would win the House seat there in November, but he wasn't so sure about taking control of Congress.

On Tuesday, Democrat Mark Critz won the special election to replace the late Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., but Steele said it was a conservative district that the GOP would win in five months.

"In November, we'll get that seat back because, guess what, independent conservatives get to play then and that will be a very different race," Steele said.

"Are you going to take the House back in November?" Tapper asked the RNC chairman.

"We're working very hard to do that, but, as you can see, you know, with some incumbents going down in primaries, and newer players coming to the table, that model is still being built out for us. But, absolutely, we're in the hunt," Steele said. "Just as he's in the hunt to protect, we're in the hunt to take."

"Jake," DNC chairman Tim Kaine said, "we're going to hold on to both Houses."

Kaine equivocated on whether the White House has a responsibility to discuss what it offered Rep. Joe Sestak to not run -- and ultimately win -- against Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary for Spector's Senate seat. Sestak has indicated he received an offer of some sort.

"Does the White House have a responsibility to own up and talk about what exactly was offered?" Tapper asked the DNC chairman.

"I don't know that they do," Kaine said, adding that the White House now needed to work to make sure Sestak is Pennsylvania's next Senator.

"That's rich!" RNC chairman Michael Steele said. "You don't believe the White House has an obligation here to own up and answer a simple question: Did you or did you not offer a member of the United States Congress a job to not run for office?"

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events