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Mackinac Island — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul delivered the final speech Saturday night at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference at the Grand Hotel, taking aim at his party's leadership in Congress after years of failing to advance policy priorities.

"We’re in charge in the House, we’re in charge in the Senate. Why don’t we make it any better?" asked the junior U.S. senator from Kentucky.

He said the GOP leadership's excuse "every day" is that they don't have enough votes to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood or torpedo the Iran nuclear deal because the Democrats would block those efforts.

As government funding expires Sept. 30, Paul said he supports passing legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, as well as eliminating every regulation that President Barack Obama has passed and "thousands" of other items that shouldn't be renewed.

"There's no excuse for not doing it," he said. 

Paul listed examples of wasteful spending including $800,000 to develop a televised cricket league in Afghanistan; $250,000 to send 250 Pakistani kids to a space camp in Alabama; and $300,000 to study whether Japanese quail on cocaine behave more promiscuously.

"I'm guessing we could have polled the audience on that one, all right?" Paul said as members of the 1,000-member audience chuckled.

He criticized the heads of the congressional tax committees for fighting tax cuts. Rather, they endorse "revenue-neutral" tax reform, meaning the "net effect on the economy is zero," Paul said.

"We don't have to give up what we stand for. In fact, we have to be more boldly for what we stand for."

Paul also had harsh words for Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, saying she "should forever be precluded from holding higher office” for her “dereliction of duty" related to the 2012 deaths of four U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya.

Earlier in the evening, Paul fired up a crowd of 150 supporters at a rally by playing up constitutional rights at the Gate House, a restaurant near the Grand Hotel.

Paul started out by hailing Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “who said there is no more cherished right than the right to be left alone.” Paul has made U.S. government surveillance reform a hallmark of his time in Congress.

“If the government won’t leave you alone, if the government can come into your house without permission, you don’t have any rights, you don’t have any privacy, and everything goes by the wayside,” the libertarian-minded Paul said.

“No amount of wealth can cancel out your right to be left alone.”

Paul hailed the efficiency of smaller government and decried overspending by lawmakers addicted to “spending other folks’ money.”

“No one is ever going to be good at spending other people’s money because they just don’t care enough,” he said.

He told the rally that Republicans can only win in a general election by showing up in urban centers and being a “Detroit Republican” who pursues policies that will help alleviate poverty and joblessness.

“My tax plan would leave $1.3 billion (over 10 years) that stays in Detroit that never goes to Washington,” Paul said, referring to his proposal for nearly tax-free economic zones where businesses would be required to hire locally.

When visiting cities like Detroit and Highland Park, leaders told him they haven't seen their Democratic representatives in a while “because they’re taken for granted,” the senator said.

"There are people who are perking up and willing to hear our message if we show up," Paul said during his speech.

Paul also got a round of cheers for his criminal-justice platform, which would reform mandatory sentencing laws and legalize medical marijuana.

At the both venues Saturday, Paul told the story of 16-year-old Kalief Browder, who was accused of a crime but never tried and who languished in Rikers Island jail for three years before committing suicide earlier this year.

“It’s happening in our country. Criminal justice isn’t being applied,” Paul said, referring to the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

“If we became the party that had compassion for some of these people who are mistreated in the criminal justice system ... if we became the party that defended the Sixth Amendment with the same sort of strength of character with which we defend the Second Amendment, we’d be a party that's so big, that we'd rock n' roll to victory," he said.

John Bell, a senior at Hillsdale College from East Lansing, attended the rally with 60 others organized by a Hillsdale student group that supports the Paul campaign.

“His views align most with the Founders of our country,” Bell said. “Rand Paul preaches limited government more than any other candidate.”

Other universities represented in the crowd included Saginaw Valley, Central Michigan, Grand Valley State and the University of Michigan.

Paul started his day in Michigan with a fundraiser in Detroit, according to his campaign.

mburke@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8736

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