"If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would have spent millions to support the anti-Intelligence law that was just passed with the help of some Republicans now running for president."
That's what Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Monday in a foreign policy speech of the surveillance overhaul that he's long opposed, drawing a contrast with his Republican presidential rivals from the Senate. But the rhetoric against the USA Freedom Act has not led to concern by supporters of his White House bid who also backed — or even advocated for — to have concerns about Rubio or his message.
"As a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, Marco Rubio is uniquely qualified to serve as our President," Sen. Steve Daines said in a statement Monday. "While we may have some differing opinions, I believe Marco will be an exceptional Commander-in-Chief who will protect and defend the homeland against all threats."
The Montana Republican was asked to respond to the latest elevation of the issue by Rubio's campaign.
Two of the three Senate Republicans backing Rubio's White House bid voted for the USA Freedom Act (Daines and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.) while Jim Risch of Idaho opposed it. Gardner's office did not immediately respond to a query about Rubio's latest statements.
The overwhelming majority of House Republicans supporting Rubio so far voted for the legislation that President Barack Obama signed into law, but some lawmakers who voted in favor of it said they did so at the time because there was no viable path forward for any more expansive program.
During Monday's speech, Rubio said he would bring back the old Patriot Act program, which featured the bulk collection of telephone metadata by the National Security Agency.
"I will not only restore the intelligence programs Obama and Congress have destroyed, I will strengthen them. Because ISIS does not use carrier pigeons to communicate. They use sophisticated encryption and carefully secured networks," Rubio said in Hooksett, N.H. "It was already difficult to infiltrate them, now it is even harder."
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and presidential candidate who is also traveling in New Hampshire, responded to Rubio by pivoting back to immigration.
"What ISIS would really want is Marco Rubio's immigration bill, giving them unfettered access to attack us at home. Giving up our liberty for a false sense of security is never the answer," Paul said in a statement.
Paul had opposed both the revised surveillance program and the original, with a filibuster helping to prompt a brief lapse in all the authorities.
In an apparent jab at Senate rivals known for their extended orations on the floor of the chamber, Rubio said that the security threats emanating from the Middle East that, "words and political stunts cannot ensure our security. ISIS cannot be filibustered."
Theoretically, an authorization for the use of military force against ISIS could be filibustered, but that would require the Senate to take it up for debate first, and that is simply not on the agenda — in part because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would not want to constrain the military actions of any future president, be it Rubio, Cruz, Paul or anyone else.
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