Facing accusations from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida that he's supported weakening surveillance powers, presidential rival and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas hit back against his rival on Thursday.
The two Republican presidential candidates have been at each other over their differing views on reauthorization of provisions of the Patriot Act. The provisions in question involve the bulk collection of telephone metadata by the National Security Agency. Rubio is in a contingent led by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., that is blasting people who supported ending the bulk collection, claiming the practice is key to fighting terrorist threats.
But Cruz, who was one of the conservative leaders on the USA Freedom Act with fellow Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is arguing that's flatly false.
"I co-sponsored the USA Freedom Act to enable the intelligence community to find and prosecute and kill the bad guys, while protecting ordinary citizens' privacy rights," Cruz said. "Under the USA Freedom Act, investigators have more tools to target suspected terrorists, to access their phone records, to track down with whom they've communicated."
"Under the old bulk data program, all of us were presumed guilty at the outset, and yet the universe of phone records that could be searched was materially smaller than the universe that can now be searched," Cruz told an audience on Thursday at the Heritage Foundation.
Rubio has been hitting Cruz over the data collection overhaul on a regular basis for several weeks, sometimes by name, as the two senators have been the GOP elected officials highest in many polls.
"At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to the presidency, Sen. Cruz in particular, have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs just in the last month and a half. And the weakening of our intelligence gathering capabilities leaves America vulnerable," Rubio said at a Wall Street Journal forum last month .
Ads against Cruz from supporters of Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have seized on the Texas senator's opposition to reauthorizing the broader bulk collection program earlier this year in the Senate.
In another counter-punch, Cruz has taken to putting Rubio into the same basket as President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats who are pushing for new firearms legislation in the aftermath of the terrorist mass-shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., arguing that Rubio and his supporters are trying to undermine the Fourth Amendment in the same way Democrats undermine the Second Amendment.
"There are voices on the left who are taking the same approach, and want us to voluntarily surrender our Second Amendment rights. Both of these approaches are misguided," Cruz said Thursday. "Chief among them going after our Second Amendment rights is our president. With all due respect, the president has it exactly backwards. We don't stop the bad guys by giving away our guns. We stop the bad guys by using our guns."
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