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Special Report

Sen. Rand Paul on Russia, debt ceiling debate, path to White House

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 7, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: We are pleased to have Kentucky Senator and Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul in our Center Seat tonight. Joining me on the panel, Nina Easton, columnist for Fortune magazine, Ron Fournier, senior political columnist of National Journal, and editor in chief of Lifezette, Laura Ingraham. Senator, thanks for being here.

SEN. RAND PAUL, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Glad to be with you.

BAIER: Republicans have had concerns about some of your foreign policy stances, some of the things you've talked about on foreign policy.

PAUL: I've had some concerns with their foreign policy as well.

BAIER: Exactly. And you've noted them many times. Now with Russia taking an active role in Syria a lot of people want to know what you would do as president. We asked people on Twitter and Facebook to write in. Yolanda Buford writes in "How do you feel about Putin, Russia replacing the U.S. as leadership role in the Middle East? What would you do?"

PAUL: I think the first thing we need to know is how we got here, and then the second thing we need to know is what is important to do so we don't get into a situation that we can't get out of.

During the cold war we had many altercations with Russia and the Soviet Union at a time when the tension was much greater and much more potentially dangerous. What I think is reckless and irresponsible of some of my colleagues who, on the presidential stages, to say we're not going to talk to Putin. Well, having no relations or communication with Putin is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Others have now been saying we need to be prepared to use force against Russia. It's like, my goodness, we avoided that for 70 years in the cold war. I don't think that's a good idea.

And then others are saying we need to draw a red line. We need to have a no-fly zone. Well, that's also a recipe for disaster, for either an accidental or a purposeful shooting down by one country or the other.

I think we have to work at how we got here. How did we get here? We used to have Saddam Hussein, a tyrant, who opposed Iran. He's gone now. Iran is stronger. Iran is now allied with Iraq. Who gave flyover permission for Russia to go into Syria? Iraq. Who said today that they're inviting Russia and want Russia to attack ISIS? Iraq. It's going to be a little hard for us to say Russia go home when Syria, Iraq, and Iran are all saying they want Russia to be there.

BAIER: I get that looking back. But looking forward, what are you doing as President Paul? Are you OK if Russia is doing what it's doing, even though they're attacking rebels on the ground by all accounts?

PAUL: I don't think I would put it that way, that I'm OK with it. What I would say is we need to stand up for our position, for our position in the world. But there's not a position, what are we going to do? Do you want to drive Russia out of Syria? Do you want to have a land war with Russia? There is no sort of scenario in which America can just stand up and say be gone, Russia. I think what we need to do is make sure that an accident doesn't happen, make sure that we have open lines of communication, make sure that Russia knows what our position is on this. So we communicate our displeasure and we try to say, this is not something we feel. But, you know, is there a military solution to this? There isn't a military solution.

BAIER: Laura?

LAURA INGRAHAM, EDITOR IN CHIEF, LIFEZETTE.COM: I think it's interesting to listen to Senator Paul because he's reflecting exactly what Donald Trump said with you last night in the interview when he talked about foreign policy, and before, and Gadhafi. He said better for Gadhafi to be in power, better for Hussein to be in power.

PAUL: He's been listening to my speeches.

INGRAHAM: Perhaps. But it's a fascinating divergence in the Republican Party. And I think it's fueling the support that you get on college campuses and fueling some of what Trump is finding out there as well.

People want America to be strong, but they also like the idea of a humble foreign policy, a smart foreign policy, which is what George W. Bush campaigned on until 9/11 happened. But it's a complicated scenario, right, because we don't want Russia to become the number one power broker in the Middle East. Yet America doesn't have an appetite to go full force.

PAUL: It's also why we have to look backwards as well as looking forward. You have to learn from the past. And when you look at the past, if there's one clear thing in the Middle East to learn it's that every time we've toppled a secular dictator, every time we've gotten rid one of the iron fists, we've gotten chaos, the rise of the radical Islam, and it turns out the unintended consequences were worse than maybe the situation was before.

BAIER: Ron?

RON FOURNIER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: I'm still not sure what you would do about Putin and Russia. But let's go to the Pentagon.

PAUL: What do you know that is sure?

FOURNIER: Pardon me?

PAUL: Who do you know that is sure of what we would do? What I wouldn't do is no-fly zone. I think that's a huge mistake and endangers World War III. I would not close communications. So I would diplomatically engage. I would express our opinion. But the thing is I think war with Russia is really bad idea. And I can tell you that the people in my party who are saying don't talk to Putin, have a no-fly zone, be prepared to use force against Russia, that's all very scary to me, and the wrong approach.

FOURNIER: There's the Pentagon has a $600 billion budget. Four or five months ago you suggested that was bloated, telling on Joe Scarborough, "Do I think we need more than all of the next 14 countries combined? I think that needs to be examined." You've had more than four months to examine it. Yes or no, do we need this much money?

PAUL: I just had a vote today where I was the lone Republican that said I'm not voting for the defense spending and this extra war funding on top of that, because I think really the problem with our deficit, if you're truly a conservative, yes, you have to look at both the military and the domestic welfare. Instead we do the opposite. We have an unholy alliance between right and left up here. The right wants more military spending, the left wants more domestic. What happens? The unholy alliance comes together and gets more spending for everything. That's also why we're $18 trillion in debt, and it's also why I'm frankly the only conservative running on either side because I would be willing to cut both.

FOURNIER: You would cut, you would bring us down below $600 billion?

PAUL: What I would say is that you have to be able to cut across the board. That's what the sequester was. Some of the sequester was a cut in the rate of growth. But it was cutting across the board and it actually was something that was slowing down the accumulation of debt, and we abandoned most of that last year, and that what's coming up now and what many in the leadership are saying, yes, we're going to bust the budget caps. The last remaining vestige of control is going to be busted, but not because of Democrats. Because of an unholy alliance between the right and the left who are so avaricious for more spending that they can't get enough.

BAIER: Nina?

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Senator, going back to your position on Syria and your overall sense of foreign policy, there's a compelling argument to be made that the reason Russia felt licensed to go into Syria is because we didn't stand up to Putin over the Ukraine, that we didn't arm Ukrainian rebels, which raises the question, what is the difference between noninterventionist and weak global leadership by the U.S. that eventually puts the U.S. at risk?

PAUL: I think if you look at the region and you say why is Syria now involved in the region, you might say, well, if we look back, had we had not gotten involved in Iraq war to begin with maybe Russia wouldn't be so involved. So maybe it's an unintended consequence of the Iraq war.

In the Ukraine there was no real military solution to removing Crimea, removing the Russians from Crimea. There was no real military solution that anyone even from the farthest right wing of our party was proposing to do as far as pushing them out of Ukraine. As far as arming Ukraine with self-defense, I actually favor that.

BAIER: Back with domestic policy questions for Senator Paul after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: We are back with Senator Rand Paul in our Center Seat. Senator, you've repeatedly voted against raising the debt ceiling. One is coming up very soon. How will you vote?

PAUL: I can't vote to raise the debt ceiling. It's sort of giving more credit to people who are drunk on spending, and we can't give them more credit. And so what I was use is as an opportunity to use the leverage for those who believe we have to raise the debt ceiling, use it as leverage to try to get spending cuts. In 2011 --

BAIER: Even though President Obama says he's not going to negotiate on this front at all?

PAUL: He said he wouldn't negotiate last time and he did. In 2011 over this he negotiated and we got sequestration or overall budget caps. So I think you do need that, you should use the leverage. All of these things should be points of leverage for Congress to exert their authority. I think --

BAIER: You're up against the fiscal cliff of a possible government shutdown.

PAUL: Yes. The other thing we discovered last time when we had this debate. The government brings in $60 billion, $70 billion a month. There's plenty of money to spend on interest so we would never default on interest. There's plenty of money actually to fund Social Security, Medicare, and soldiers' salaries. Little else is left in it, but it might be a good idea to reexamine what we are spending our money on.

But I would use it as leverage to get reforms and I would force the issue. But I would also have done the same with the previous spending. I would have let all the spending expire and say now let's negotiate on what you want to spend money on, and it would take 60 votes in the Senate to get any spending bills through.

BAIER: Laura?

INGRAHAM: How much power do the donor class over the GOP, specifically the GOP candidates for the presidency?

PAUL: I think there are certain people that there is power exerted over them.

INGRAHAM: Name them.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL: Now you really want to get me in trouble. It's someone's opinion, but I would say that there are people very much influenced by, who the money they give to. I think there are people, and I would count myself in this category, who I'm uninfluenced by the money. I am what I am and I believe what I do. And there are people who give to me who agree with what I stand for. But nobody I think believes they can give me a donation that I will change my opinion. But there are people up here, many people, I would say the majority of Congress, will go with the wind, and the wind is money. Which way the money is blowing, they will go.

INGRAHAM: If the Chamber of Commerce wants something to get done it usually would get done.

PAUL: I would say the majority of Congress are influence-able.

BAIER: Ron?

FOURNIER: Donald Trump says eminent domain is wonderful. What would you call it?

PAUL: I would call it one of the worst things the government does. And because one of the fundamental building blocks of capitalism is private property, and to say that the government can take private property from small property owner and give it to a big corporation like Trump or one of his casinos, I think is antithetical to freedom, it's antithetical to what we stand for. And the fact that he is for the abuse of eminent domain really ought to be disqualifier for any conservative Republican to vote for him. I keep waiting for everybody to wake up one day and say, oh, my goodness, he's not a conservative, because it's true. He's not a fake. He really isn't a conservative. And no conservative in our party is for using eminent domain like he is.

BAIER: Nina?

EASTON: Let's talk marijuana. You're considered, even though you don't support recreational marijuana, you're considered probably the most marijuana-friendly candidate supporting medical marijuana. But now we have in Colorado, which does support recreational marijuana, it's legal there and we have several hundred billion, or, excuse me, million dollar business, industry built around that. What do you make of that? Is that a good thing?

PAUL: I think it's a good thing to allow states to make their own laws. And so it's funny, when we had the presidential debate recently many governors were standing up and beating their chest about how they loved the A0th amendment which leaves the powers non-enumerated to Congress are left to the states and people, until the governors decide they disagree with marijuana, and then they said they were for federal laws telling states what to do.

But I'm sort of agnostic to the state of Colorado. I think the state of Colorado should get to decide. I am sympathetic, though, to people who have kids who have intractable seizures and have tried seven, 10 different medicines, and they want to try cannabis oil. People in the states would take that child away, send social services in, put the mother in jail. I'm against that. I am for more freedom. And I think particularly with the medicinal qualities of cannabis, people ought to get a chance to make that decision themselves.

BAIER: Last one for the panel here before we move on to politics, Mattie Bear tweets in, "Who would you nominate as the next speaker of the House?"

PAUL: A couple of people have asked me that. I got one vote last time. I haven't decided whether to actually actively campaign. You know, anybody can be speaker, even someone in the Senate or someone not in politics could be the speaker of the House.

But what I would say is that what I've been telling people, and I do believe this, it ought to be somebody elected to less than three terms. You want really new blood, you want to really change things? If you go to who is next in the pecking order in leadership, you're going to get more of the same. So nothing against any one person, but I would go to somebody who is brand new and fresh and just came in from the private sector.

BAIER: Are you for term limits in this campaign?

PAUL: Absolutely.

BAIER: More with Senator Paul. We'll talk politics when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) BAIER: Welcome back to SPECIAL REPORT. Republican presidential candidate and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in our Center Seat tonight. Senator, the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls has you at 2.3 percent. If you look at the state-by-state polls today, Florida, you're at two percent, Ohio at three percent, Pennsylvania at one percent. How do you turn that around, and what do you tell supporters who say we're just not seeing it?

PAUL: You know, I'm thinking about going to joke school or something. Maybe I need better jokes. I've been told I need better hair, I need to be taller, I need better clothes. You know how many people tell me you have to do something different to bring your polls up?

But I guess all I know is to say what I believe in. And I'll keep saying what I believe in, and that is that government is too big, debt is too big, and that we have to do something. And really the problem is not just the liberals, not just the Democrats. It's the right and left spending too much money. And I'm the only one saying that, that it's really an unholy alliance of both sides, some Republicans and some Democrats getting together to bust the budget.

BAIER: But you're running for president but you're also running for senator at the same time.

PAUL: I'm doing better in that race.

(LAUGHTER)

BAIER: There will be a decision at some point. When do you think that will come?

PAUL: I'm going to let people vote. And I think the polls don't accurately represent our organizational strength in Iowa. We have chairmen in all 99 counties in Iowa. We have hundreds of precinct chairmen. We have 1,000 students rallying for us. I would hate to give up and say the students aren't going to get a chance to vote for someone who truly thinks you shouldn't be putting everybody in jail for marijuana, that really we shouldn't be at war everywhere around the world all the time, and that really there isn't another way, that there isn't a third way.

BAIER: Laura?

INGRAHAM: Transpacific Partnership, I know you voted against the trade promotion authority. Donald Trump is against it. Hillary Clinton comes out today and is against it. What is your position on the super- secret document that nobody has seen?

PAUL: Well, I can promise you once I take a final position I'm only going to take one. Hillary I guess has been on both sides of this issue. I don't like TPA which was giving special authority to the president. I think one of the biggest problems we have in our country is too much power going to the executive branch and going away from Congress. So absolutely I didn't want to give this special power and this special pathway for it to come through. I was also very annoyed with the fact that the trade agreement was classified, and at first they told me I couldn't even see it.

INGRAHAM: Why was it classified?

PAUL: I have no idea why a trade treaty would be classified. I'm still complaining. When I meet leadership in the hallways of Congress, I'm saying why in the heck do you classify --

INGRAHAM: You know why they classified it. They don't want people to see what's in it.

PAUL: I went to read it. And there was some staff members and we spent an hour, an hour and a half in there, and I'm not so sure I was even given the final copy because the final copy has come out recently. So I like to read things, so I'm going to read it first. I'm in general for trade, for trade, because I think trade enriches us all. But I don't like the organization of international bodies controlling our trade.

BAIER: Quickly, Ron.

FOURNIER: Three political operatives very, very close to your operation are about to face trial for alleged pay for endorsement scheme. Are they innocent?

PAUL: I don't really know innocence or guilt or the law. The law is really complicated. And this is sort of campaign finance regulations. And a lot of it is how you report things, whether you report things. And in fact many things can be all legal and then someone tries to say they're illegal. And so I really don't know the details of the case. And they didn't work for me, by the way. None of these people worked for me.

FOURNIER: Isn't this kind of Clintonian, this whole --

PAUL: People going after them?

FOURNIER: Are people going after them or are they possibly guilty?

PAUL: Well, it took four years for people to charge them. And the person charging them is in the Obama Justice Department. And I believe the person who's in charge of the investigation testified before Congress, and when asked 30 times whether he knew anything about Lois Lerner and all of the other e-mails that were missing answered 30 times that he wasn't going to respond, that he didn't recall. And so when someone has been investigated for malfeasance, I wonder whether it is politically motivated.

BAIER: Senator, thank you. That is it for the panel.

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