At a time when some Republicans considering presidential campaigns are trying to show their compassionate sides, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took on a mission to help the poor a world away.
Paul, an ophthalmologist, conducted dozens of eye surgeries at no charge over three days in Salama, Guatemala, joining a team of other doctors from the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah.
“Over 200 people received cataract and other sight-restoring surgeries,” Paul spokeswoman Eleanor May told The Daily Signal.
In many of the procedures last week, Paul removed cataracts from his patients’ eyes and replaced them with plastic lenses.
NBC News accompanied the Kentucky Republican on the trip, and produced a video report that aired Saturday night and Sunday morning. Paul told correspondent Chris Jansing:
I don’t know the politics of any of the ophthalmologists in there and we don’t care. We just want people to see better.
Although Paul traveled to Central America to complete this latest charitable mission (he has brought his expertise to poor areas of America, too, for years), he didn’t try to hide his ambition for a run at the White House.
His political advertising team accompanied Paul to Guatemala — source of many of the unaccompanied minors who crossed the Mexico-Texas border in recent months — and the conservative group Citizens United shot a documentary of the mission.
Paul, in his interviews with NBC News, spoke about hot political topics such as immigration, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the police shooting of a black youth, and the “militarization” of police there and elsewhere.
Referring to Department of Homeland Security grants to police agencies to buy military-style equipment to fight terrorism, Paul said:
Homeland security gave $8 million … to fight terrorism in Fargo, North Dakota, and I say, if the terrorists get to Fargo we might as well give up.
In remarks about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic prospect for president in 2016, Paul called her a “war hawk.”