Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday the next president will have to reverse damage done to the national security apparatus by the USA Freedom Act.
The Florida Republican and presidential candidate was one of the 32 senators to vote against the bill to overhaul the National Security Agency's Patriot Act-era intelligence collection programs, which easily passed. He was in a group of lawmakers, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said the bill could make America less secure . And he was one of just 14 who voted to filibuster the bill earlier Tuesday, along with fellow presidential candidates Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.
But Rubio's position was, on policy grounds, the polar opposite of Paul's.
"The failure to renew the expiring components of the PATRIOT Act was a mistake. The 'USA Freedom Act' weakens U.S. national security by outlawing the very programs our intelligence community and the FBI have used to protect us time and time again," Rubio said. "A major challenge for the next president will be to fix the significantly weakened intelligence system that the current one is leaving behind."
A member of the Intelligence Committee, Rubio's Tuesday evening statement said critics of the programs that lapsed at the end of the day Sunday, which had included the bulk storage of phone records by the National Security Agency, were misleading the public.
"Because the U.S. remains the freest nation on earth, we will always be targeted by those who attempt to exploit our society’s openness to further their twisted ideology," Rubio said. "Unfortunately, weak presidential leadership combined with a politically motivated misinformation campaign have now left the American people less safe than we’ve been at any point since the 9/11 attacks."
Paul, of course, was the most persistent voice against the programs, objecting to stopgap extensions as recently as Sunday and calling the Patriot Act the "most unpatriotic" of laws.
Another rival presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, voted for USA Freedom Act, staking out a relative middle ground between Rubio and Paul.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina announced via his official Twitter account, @GrahamBlog, that had he been present, he would have joined the McConnell-Rubio contingent in opposing the final bill.
Graham announced his presidential bid Monday in South Carolina, and he was on a campaign swing through New Hampshire on Tuesday.
Aside from McConnell and the presidential candidates, several other Republican senators, including freshmen, issued strong statements against the bill, which passed the House with 338 members voting in support. That group included Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
"I am disappointed that Congress made it harder for our intelligence community to defend Nebraskans," said Sasse. "Our fight against jihadi terror will take decades and in the coming years Washington will regret gutting the Patriot Act. We reached this crossroads because Washington's dysfunction bred national distrust. I am committed to both improving national security and restoring the public's trust by speaking bluntly about securing our freedom from evolving threats.”
Related: McConnell Goes Down Swinging, Hard, on USA Freedom Act (Video) Senate Passes USA Freedom Act Senate Odd Couple — Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul — Won’t Split Despite NSA Rift Angry John McCain Calls Rand Paul ‘the Worst’
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