NASHVILLE — For a Republican incumbent under fire from GOP opponents for being a "moderate," it doesn't hurt to have your picture taken with a national tea party favorite as you both say you intend to replace Obamacare.
That was the scene in Nashville on Monday as U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., stood side by side with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., after the two lawmakers held a closed-door session with a group of Tennessee health care executives about President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Moving to pre-empt any questions by reporters about an actual Paul endorsement in his own Aug. 7 GOP primary, Alexander said, "We're not here to endorse each other. Rand hasn't asked me to endorse him for president of the United States, and I haven't asked him to endorse me for the Senate. We're here on business."
The issue, said Alexander, is the Affordable Care Act. Alexander is the ranking Republican on the Democratic-controlled Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which deals with the law. Paul is a committee member.
"If Republicans take over the Senate, as I believe we will, I'll be the chairman, and he [Paul] will probably be one of the most visible and active members," Alexander said. "What we hope to do as Republicans, if we're given the opportunity to lead in November ... is to move as responsibly and rapidly as we can away from Obamacare toward freedom, choices and lower costs for Americans."
Alexander has come under fire from two of his main GOP primary opponents -- state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas and Memphis physician and businessman George Flinn -- for not having been aggressive enough in their view in fighting the health care law.
Said Paul: "I'm happy to join Sen. Alexander today to look for and talk about solutions to replace Obamacare or fix Obamacare."
Their proposed changes include allowing insurers to sell across state lines to make coverage less costly, allow employers to offer employees wellness incentives to workers, keeping one's doctor and expansion of Health Savings Accounts.
It's about "freedom of choice," Paul said.
This was Paul's second appearance with Alexander in Nashville on an issue. Last year, Paul and Alexander attended an event on charter schools in Tennessee. Also last year, Alexander used footage of him and Paul in an early campaign ad touting a law they sponsored allowing sportsmen continue to fish below U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-operated dams.
Paul said at the time it was not an endorsement.
Asked about that again, Paul didn't respond directly but was complimentary of Alexander.
"While I am very strong on speaking out on issues, sometimes I don't have the ability to get things through and to actually get them into legislation," Paul said. "I think [Alexander] was very successful getting that [Freedom to Fish Act] into legislation."
While Carr has Tennessee-based tea party support, he has yet to have a major national figure bless his candidacy.
Carr launched a preemptive news release prior to the Alexander and Paul event in which he called on Alexander to agree to a series of debates, just as Paul did in his 2010 insurgent Senate contest.
"I challenge Lamar Alexander to debate before any impartial group," Carr said. "Tennesseans deserve to have a full and robust debate so they can make the most informed decision on who truly represents their best interests."
Alexander isn't biting. He noted there are seven Republicans running in the primary in which early voting begins July 18.
"The first question would be, could we schedule it?" Alexander said. "And the second would be if anyone would learn anything from a debate among seven people like that?"
The senator said the "best thing" for all seven seeking the GOP nomination "is just be available to the people of Tennessee and let them know our views."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...