GREENSBURG, Ky. (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Rand Paul complained bitterly Tuesday about the government's COVID-19 response but did not single out former President Donald Trump for blame, instead accusing Kentucky's governor and Dr. Anthony Fauci of encroaching on personal freedom.
In a home state appearance in Greensburg, Kentucky, the libertarian-leaning Republican said Americans should make their own decisions on whether to be vaccinated.
"We don't really need people who believe in some sort of elitism to tell us what to do," said Paul, who is an eye surgeon, speaking before a luncheon audience. "I think we've got pretty good sense."
Paul noted that most people age 65 and older have receive their vaccinations, saying they "figured out it was in their best interest to do so."
"In a free society, we make these decisions individually," he said.
Paul acknowledged Trump as "one of the big leaders" of the national Republican Party but said the GOP has a lot of leaders. Paul deflected a question about whether he might seek the presidency again, saying he is focused on his 2022 Senate reelection bid.
Paul's talk of individuality comes as the Biden administration tries to reach its COVID-19 vaccination goal by sending A-list officials across the country, devising ads for niche markets and enlisting community organizers to persuade unvaccinated people to get a shot.
Paul opened his wide-ranging remarks by taking aim at Fauci, the nation's top government infectious-diseases expert, and Kentucky's Democratic governor, Andy Beshear.
Paul has sparred with Fauci over the need to wear masks once coronavirus vaccines were available and over how COVID-19 originated. The senator told the rural GOP crowd Tuesday that Fauci was "busy being political" and "elitist," adding: "We're smart enough to make our own decisions."
The senator lambasted Beshear over his virus-related restrictions on businesses that have since been lifted, saying: "In our state, the governor decided that he was king." Beshear has said his actions saved lives.
The Kentucky Supreme Court is currently reviewing a separation-of-powers case stemming from measures passed by the state's GOP-dominated legislature to limit the governor's executive powers. Beshear filed a lawsuit after lawmakers overrode his vetoes of bills reining in his executive authority. Paul called it the most important case before the state's high court in decades.
"Because if the court rules that the legislature cannot limit a governor's powers, then you have a governor with unlimited powers," the senator said Tuesday. "And it is incredibly dangerous."
After his speech, Paul defended his focus on the past virus-related actions. He said he gets more questions about his clashes with Fauci than any other topic when meeting with Kentuckians.
"I think it's still very present on people's minds," the senator told reporters. "I think it also was the greatest restrictions of our freedom in a long, long time. It's hard to look for a precedent of where government got so involved in our daily lives over the past many decades."
Paul also criticized a push by liberal advocates to change or eliminate the Senate's filibuster rules, saying he also opposed such efforts when Republicans led the chamber.
"We have a danger zone until the election of 2022," he said, adding that removing the filibuster would lead to "all kinds of michief" by Democrats -- including widespread voting by mail and "confiscatory" tax policies.
He said that "having things go at a slower pace" can be a good thing.
Paul is seeking a third Senate term in next year's election. Charles Booker, a Black former state lawmaker who touts a progressive agenda, has emerged as a leading potential Democratic challenger. Paul made no reference to Booker during his appearance in Greensburg.
Paul did downplay prospects for a repeat run for the presidency in 2024. The Kentucky senator ran for the White House in 2016 but his campaign fizzled as Trump overshadowed the GOP field.
Paul said Tuesday that he's focused on his reelection campaign, and said the national GOP political scene will be "upended until President Trump decides what he's going to do."
"And so I think we wait and see," Paul said when asked about a 2024 presidential bid. "But it's not something that I'm actively thinking, oh, this is my next step. I'm not really thinking toward that. It would have to be some extraordinary set of events to come together probably for me to consider it."
Asked if Trump remains the leader of the national GOP, Paul said: "The Republican Party is a big party, so I think there are many leaders. And former President Trump is one of the big leaders in the party. But it's not monolithic."