Sen. Marco Rubio is criticizing Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Rand Paul for supporting legislation that he says weakened intelligence programs.
In the aftermath of the coordinated terrorist attacks on Paris and during an intelligence discussion at the Wall Street Journal Forum, Rubio said the United States was just as vulnerable as Paris to another terrorist attack. He argued that supporting U.S. surveillance and intelligence programs was more important than ever, something he had a long record of doing.
“I think it’s a distinctive issue of debate in the presidential race. At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to the presidency, Senator Cruz in particular, have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs just in the last month and a half,” he said, alluding to Paul without naming him.
Rubio argued out that thanks to the “traitor” Edward Snowden and to American politicians who voted to reform intelligence gathering, important programs that monitored terrorist activity were weakened.
Rubio was referring to Cruz’s support for the USA Freedom Act which was the bi-partisan reform version of the controversial Patriot Act. The bill was drafted by conservative Republican Senator Mike Lee and co-sponsored by Cruz, but the effort was opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as it failed to extend bulk data extension programs in the Patriot Act.
The Senate legislation became a political mess, as Paul angered his Senate colleagues by blocking it at every opportunity. After dragging out the debate until the Patriot Act expired, Paul claimed victory while the Freedom Act was finally passed by a vote of 67-32.
The bipartisan Senate vote was unusual, as conservative Tea Party senators like Cruz and Lee teamed up with long time liberals like Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Sen. Dick Durbin to pass the bill.
Senators who voted against the bill did so for different reasons. Paul voted against it because it extended provisions of the Patriot Act, Rubio and McConnell voted against it because it failed to continue all aspects of the Patriot Act.
Cruz and Lee voted for it because it extended many of the provisions and introduced reform to the intelligence gathering process.
“As with any legislation, the USA Freedom Act is not perfect,” Lee wrote in a Washington Post op-ed defending the bill at the time. “It does end the bulk collection of phone records and other data by our nation’s intelligence agencies, but it also represents compromises by the intelligence community and civil libertarians.”
Obama also supported the bill, signing it in June 2015.
“Enactment of this legislation will strengthen civil liberty safeguards and provide greater public confidence in these programs,” Obama said in a statement of support. “I am gratified that Congress has finally moved forward with this sensible reform legislation.”