Bernie/Rand 2016? Rand/Bernie?
There were some strange bedfellows on Thursday applauding a federal court’s ruling that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone data violated the U.S. Constitution.
It provided fodder to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), the only Republican presidential candidate who has called for an end to the NSA collection program. Towing similar lines as the libertarian-leaning Paul was Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent, self-described “democratic socialist” who announced his candidacy for president last week.
Paul’s Twitter account first tweeted that he was “pleased” with the ruling, calling “the phone records of law abiding citizens…none of the NSA’s business!”
He then asked his followers to retweet if they agreed the NSA program should be illegal. It may be the first time an official presidential candidate has pleaded for a retweet:
Sanders also released a statement through both his campaign and official Senate Twitter accounts, saying he believes the NSA is “out of control and operating in an unconstitutional manner.”
“I worry very much about kids growing up in a society where they think, ‘I’m not going to talk about this issue, read this book, or explore this idea because someone may think I’m a terrorist,’” Sanders added. “That is not the kind of free society I want for our children.”
Paul last year filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration and the NSA, alleging some of its collection programs violated the U.S. Constitution. But that suit was put on hold pending other challenges—like the suit that led to Tuesday’s ruling. Thursday’s ruling could lead to the challenge going all the way to the Supreme Court.
Congress right now is in the midst of debating whether to renew the NSA’s bulk collection program, which expires on June 1. The bill with perhaps the best chance of passing is the USA Freedom Act, which passed a House of Representatives committee last week and is likely to come to the floor for a full vote next week. It ends the controversial NSA program in question but replaces it with a new collection system in which the NSA would have to ask private companies for specific records.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a presidential candidate who is a co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, said Thursday’s ruling made clear that Congress should pass that bill.
“The court’s ruling today confirms what the American public already knew: The National Security Agency’s data collection program went too far in collecting the phone records of Americans,” Cruz said. “Congress should immediately pass the USA Freedom Act, of which I am a proud cosponsor, to strike the right balance between privacy rights and national security interests.”
But other Republicans defended the NSA in the wake of the court’s ruling and said the USA Freedom Act wouldn’t go far enough in protecting the U.S. from terror threats. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is pushing for a renewal of the current NSA program, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who is also running for president.
“I hope that I'm wrong, but one day there will be an attack that's successful,” Rubio said on the Senate floor Thursday. “The first question out of everyone's mouth is going to be, why didn't we know about it? And the answer better not be because this Congress failed to reauthorize a program that might have helped us know about it.”
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.