Rand Paul Fends Off GOP Critics on NSA
Rand Paul’s presidential campaign is fighting back against Republicans who have criticized the Kentucky senator for opposing the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection.
Paul staged a 10½-hour filibuster over the reauthorization of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which gave legal justification for the NSA’s surveillance capabilities that were exposed by former contractor Edward Snowden. His continued opposition to the 2001 law forced a rare Sunday Senate session the night it was set to expire.
As a result, a plethora of Republicans called Paul’s motives into question. Arizona Sen. John McCain said Paul was prioritizing campaign fundraising over national security; Texas Sen. John Cornyn called his actions “reckless;” fellow Kentuckian Mitch McConnell, who has endorsed Paul for president, accused him of waging a “campaign of disinformation;” Paul’s new rival George Pataki said he was “putting Americans at risk for a political reason.”
On top of that, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, now a presidential candidate himself, has blasted Paul’s “weak” foreign policy positions. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is expected to enter the race later this month, called Paul “unsuited” for the Oval Office after he blamed Republican hawks for the rise of ISIS.
The libertarian-leaning senator isn’t backing down against his fellow Republicans, including the latest thorn in his side: Jeb Bush, who will launch his White House bid later this month.
In a Tuesday interview on Fox News, Bush said Paul’s national security views are more closely aligned with liberal Democrats than conservative Republicans.
“While Rand Paul and a few others have expressed concerns about civil liberties – and I respect that, although I don’t see any shred of evidence that anybody’s civil liberties are being violated – the great preponderance of people that want to overturn the Patriot Act are on the left,” Bush said.
Paul spokesman Sergio Gor responded by drawing attention to Bush’s recent difficulties in finessing questions about whether he supported the decision made by his brother, George W. Bush, to invade Iraq 12 years ago.
“Just like he was confused for weeks about his position on the Iraq War, Gov. Bush appears completely unaware of the facts about the government’s illegal and unnecessary spying [on] the American people,” Gor said in a statement to Politico, accusing Bush of playing politics rather than adhering to the Constitution.
Paul declared victory after the Patriot Act expired on Sunday night, but it was short-lived. The Senate ultimately approved House-passed legislation on Tuesday that renewed most provisions of the Patriot Act and ended the NSA’s bulk data collection by transferring it to telephone companies.
But Paul claimed the reform measure, the USA Freedom Act, didn’t go far enough, saying it “replaces one form of bulk collection with another.”
In fundraising emails blasted out to supporters, Paul has doubled down on his criticisms of the NSA’s “illegal spying.” In addition, Paul called himself the best-positioned Republican to defeat Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, citing a May NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showing that he edges Clinton 45 percent to 37 percent among independent voters. For Paul, this validates the view that his brand of limited-government civil libertarianism – once heralded by his father, Ron Paul – is popular beyond GOP circles and could capture critical undecided voters and Millennials.
The RealClearPolitics polling average has Paul tied for fourth place in the heavily populated GOP field, with 9.2 percent support among primary voters.