Among Sen. Marco Rubio’s closest allies, he stands nearly alone on the issue of NSA spying.
Following the terror attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, Rubio suggested that those who have tried to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers may be responsible for a future terrorist attack—a barb directed primarily at fellow candidate Sen. Ted Cruz.
“If God forbid there’s an attack tomorrow morning in another major U.S. city, the first question everyone is going to have is: Why didn’t we know about them, and how come we didn’t stop it? And the answer better not be: Because a tool we once had that could have allowed us to identify them is no longer available to us,” Rubio said this month.
But this characterization proves problematic given that most of Rubio’s supporters in Congress supported changes to the NSA’s program. In fact, 21 of Rubio’s 24 congressional supporters backed the USA Freedom Act—a bill Rubio has said “weaken[s]… U.S. intelligence programs”—this year (a 25th supporter, Rep. Darin LaHood, wasn’t in Congress at the time of the vote). And of these 21 members of Congress, more than a dozen co-sponsored a version of the USA Freedom Act in the previous Congress.
The USA Freedom Act is landmark legislation that ended the bulk collection of American phone records. Under the new law, government investigators must specifically request records from telecommunications companies for individuals they suspect to be involved with terrorism.
It’s just the latest complication with Rubio’s opposition to reining in the NSA—this month, he was using misleading talking points to present his opponents as weak on national security; now he finds himself in a sticky situation, where many of his own closest supporters can be counted among that crowd.
Chief among Rubio’s latest endorsements is Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Republican congressman whose support Rubio touted widely this week in Iowa. But Gowdy was a co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act. His office did not return a request for comment. Rep. Darrell Issa, another prominent Rubio backer, also co-sponsored this year’s NSA overhaul.
Interestingly enough, the strongest proponents for the USA Freedom Act have come from within the NSA itself, as The Daily Beast previously reported. Senior intelligence officials have described the mass collection of phone records as unwieldy and expensive—and to boot, the database helped prevent few attacks, if any at all.
Asked about how Rubio squared his belief that the USA Freedom Act weakened national security with the positions of the 21 members of Congress who have endorsed him but supported the bill, a Rubio spokesman pointed out that Cruz, who Rubio has criticized on the issue, also received support from those who had different views on the matter.
Cruz has been a leading proponent of NSA reform, and also co-sponsored the USA Freedom Act this year. Four of his 12 congressional supporters, including Rep. Steve King (R-IA), differed with him on the matter.
So while most of Cruz’s supporters are with him on spying, Rubio doesn’t have the same support.