Rubio Is Wrong To Attack Ted Cruz On National Security

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Look, I get it. One of the reasons [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore] might actually have a chance to be the Republican nominee—and to advance his mostly positive and optimistic message—is (perhaps ironically) because he’s willing to play the game of politics.

This, after all, ain’t beanbag. So when Cruz attacked Rubio’s immigration reform bill as “amnesty,” Rubio invoked Cruz’s amendment offering legal status to illegals. And when, after the Paris attacks, the topic of conversation followed the circuitous route from terrorism, to refugees, to immigrants, Rubio drew a more obvious connection: National security. (More specifically, [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore]’s vote to supposedly weaken national security.)

The problem, though, is that things are more complicated than Mr. Rubio lets on.

The attack on Cruz is apparently tied to the latter’s support for the USA Freedom Act, which altered the way intelligence agencies conduct surveillance and gather data. “As the recent terrorist attacks in Paris have shown, now is the worst possible time to undermine the very tools that keep our people safe,” Rubio said on Saturday.

This deserves some explanation: First, USA Freedom was about domestic wiretaps, so using the Paris attacks as a catalyst requires an understanding that it wouldn’t have prevented what happened in Paris. Second, USA freedom did not stop the practice of obtaining information; the government must now obtain a warrant—and the records are kept by the phone companies as part of their normal business practices.

Third, it’s important to note that USA Freedom was compromise legislation—and that, in fact, one could reasonably argue that Cruz’s efforts helped keep us safe by preventing the complete repeal of the Patriot Act’s provisions.

As US News & World Report noted last year, “There [were] not enough votes in the House to reauthorize the Patriot Act without amendments limiting its authority, according to statements from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who is the Freedom Act’s co-author.”

Should Cruz and his Senate colleagues (including [crscore]Mike Lee[/crscore]) have insisted on either renewing the Patriot Act in toto, or allowing all its provisions to expire? Would that have been more responsible?

The debate over USA Freedom was a predictable and even healthy one. There is always a tension between liberty and security, and it’s appropriate to revisit this from time to time. Now, in the wake of the Paris attacks, one could reasonably argue that we should once again revisit our decision to move in this direction. But let’s not pretend this was a reckless vote. As I wrote a year ago, USA Freedom “removes the most odious aspects of the Patriot Act (it bans the bulk collection of phone records, for example), while preserving provisions security experts believe are needed to keep Americans safe.”

So what should we make of the political attacks? On one hand, both attacks (immigration and national security) work precisely because they prey on our fears. The problem here is that this creates a disincentive for anyone who actually wants to fix our nation’s problems. It’s far smarter politically to just talk about things.

Have we reached an unfortunate state in our politics where having championed bipartisan legislation to address a real problem is a net negative? Sen. Rubio courageously worked to fix our broken immigration system, and—proving no good deed goes unpunished—he has been attacked in vicious and unfair ways. Likewise, Sen. Cruz worked across the aisle to address serious concerns about the intersection of civil liberties and national security, and today, that effort is being twisted and demagogued. I suppose turnabout is fair play …

On the other hand, this being silly season, perhaps we should count our blessings. Compared to the political coverage of Donald Trump, the debate taking place between Cruz and Rubio (about immigration and national security) involves serious and substantive issues. And the good news is that both Cruz and Rubio were willing to stick their necks out to tackle important legislation for our nation. Let’s hope that bodes well for the Republic should one of these two men actually win the White House.

Note: The author’s wife previously advised Mr. Cruz’s campaign for U.S. Senate.

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Matt K. Lewis