Four Republican senators – including two who might run for president in 2016 – addressed a gathering of social conservatives on Thursday, touting their pet issues and outlining their goals and accomplishments. But they also urged the activists in attendance not to give up the fight, despite many inside the party calling for change on how the party talks about its values.
The four who spoke to the Faith and Freedom conference in Washington, D.C., were all elected in 2010 and fueled by the Tea Party: Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Rubio used the forum to make a moral argument in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. He stressed that "compassion" is at the heart of the debate, whether you support or oppose the legislation that the U.S. Senate is currently considering.
“We know every single human life has value,” he said. “Every single human life matters” and “deserves protection of our laws and values.”
That’s part of the argument he has made for reform for the past year. “Our faith has always been about compassion and it compels you to do something,” Rubio told CBN as recently as two days ago.
In his speech Thursday, Rubio -- who identifies as Catholic, grew up Catholic, was Mormon for a brief stretch in his childhood, and in his adult life also attends a Baptist church -- noted that his faith “heavily influences” him.
Rubio cited Jesus and the Bible when it comes to American exceptionalism and the need for an active world presence by the United States.
“There is nothing to replace us. I promise you, it’s not the United Nations,” he said. “If America’s light is extinguished, there is no other light.”
Striking a somewhat opposite tone was Rand Paul, who invoked religion to argue against foreign aid to certain countries and against pre-emptive war.
“Jesus preached non-resistance,” Paul said, adding that he “simply can’t imagine” Jesus as the head of an army of soldiers.
He also seemed to call into question the Iraq war. “Saddam Hussein was bad,” Paul said, “but his government was secular and a safe place for Christians.”
Paul also preached against foreign aid, especially in countries where Christians are persecuted and that have a disdain for Israel. He pledged no money, in particular, for Pakistan and Egypt, and argued against intervention in Syria.
“There’s a war on Christianity not just by the liberal elites here at home but worldwide,” Paul said. “These countries are not our true allies, and no amount of money is going to make them so. … I say not one more penny to countries that are burning the American flag."
Sen. Mike Lee said conservatives needed to talk more about what they’re for rather than against, and he emphasized the importance of community and the family.
“Conservatism has never been a vision of isolated loners,” he said.
“Some say we have to change with the changing times,” Lee added. “Change the way we say things and talk about families. … I think they make a great point. Times have changed, we do need to broaden our appeal. But ultimately the critics have it exactly backwards. … It’s not that we’ve focused too much on the family, but far too little. The rapid changes we’ve seen have only made the family more important, not less.”
On poor students in failing schools, single moms working two jobs and on the elderly and disabled, he said, “Our party has ignored them.” But he called solutions to poverty and upward mobility proposed by Democrats “seductive,” but “flawed.”
Johnson -- who stressed his opposition to “Obamacare” and blamed liberals and the culture wars of the 1960s for the failings of American society today -- drove home an anti-government message.
"Why does a majority continue to elect people who want to grow this place?” Johnson said in reference to President Obama’s election and subsequent re-election as well as Democratic control of the Senate. “I have no idea. It baffles me."
He added, “When I hear politicians [who say they] want to create a sense of trust in government--,” his reaction is, “No, no, no, no, no. That's is the wrong solution.”
"We need to engender that healthy distrust -- that healthy distrust that our founders found in government."