Nightly News   |  May 20, 2010

Civil rights flap puts Paul in hot seat

After igniting a political firestorm for his views government's role in ending discrimination on The Rachel Maddow Show, Senate Republican nominee Rand Paul told reporters Thursday that he "unequivocally...will not support any efforts to repeal" the bill. NBC's John Yang reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: One of the bigger election results from the primaries this past Tuesday night was the tea party 's first big successful statewide candidate. His name is Rand Paul , and he was nominated to run for US Senate from Kentucky . He's the son of Congressman Ron Paul from Texas , a famous libertarian. And that same philosophy made headlines last night in a television interview, in the studio right alongside of us here, during last night's " Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC. We get the story tonight from NBC 's John Yang .

Mr. RAND PAUL: We have come to take our government back.

JOHN YANG reporting: Rand Paul 's been Kentucky 's Republican Senate nominee for less than 48 hours, but he's already ignited a political firestorm, questioning the government 's role in ending discrimination in privately owned businesses like restaurants and hotels. Last night MSNBC 's Rachel Maddow asked him about the 1960s battle to desegregate lunch counters in the South .

RACHEL MADDOW reporting: Are you in favor of that?

Mr. PAUL: Well, thing is, again -- well...

MADDOW: Forcibly, because the government got involved?

Mr. PAUL: Well, what happens is it gets in -- right, well, what it gets into is is that then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned , then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant?

YANG: Paul repeatedly said he opposes any racial discrimination. Today he issued a statement saying he unequivocally will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964 . Democrats tried to paint Paul and his supporters as out of the mainstream.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democratic Whip): He made himself the face and the spokesperson for the tea party movement at his victory party on Tuesday night, and I think that he made it very clear to the voters in America exactly what their movement is all about.

YANG: The flap highlights Paul 's lack of experience in high-stakes politics. He's an eye surgeon making his first campaign for any office. It also reflects his belief in limited government and greater individual freedom.

Mr. HOWARD FINEMAN (NBC News Political Analyst): Rand Paul 's misstep here was the misstep of a novice, but it's also the misstep of somebody with a deeply-held philosophy and passion.

YANG: A passion that may present challenges for Republicans in November. John Yang , NBC News, Chicago.