Marco Rubio's surveillance attacks also hit his allies

Story highlights

  • Many of Marco Rubio's biggest advocates in Congress have been outspoken supporters of the very bill Rubio is attacking
  • Since late fall and the Paris terrorist attacks, Rubio has positioned himself as the national security candidate

Washington (CNN)Marco Rubio has cited efforts to roll back surveillance powers as a key line of attack against his opponents in the presidential race.

"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," the freshman senator said Monday in a national security speech in New Hampshire.
But as he amps up his rhetoric, what Rubio doesn't mention on the trail is that many of his biggest advocates in Congress have been outspoken supporters of the very bill Rubio is attacking Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for backing.
    One of those lawmakers is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, who was stumping for Rubio on Tuesday and Wednesday in New Hampshire. Another is Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, who endorsed Rubio over the holidays and campaigned for him in Iowa last week.
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    Both were original co-sponsors of the very legislation Rubio has repeatedly criticized on the trail.
    The USA Freedom Act, which Cruz helped author in the Senate, rolled back and reformed some of the National Security Agency surveillance exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013. It passed both chambers of Congress with strong majorities and was signed by President Barack Obama early last summer.
    Rubio, who has positioned himself as the national security candidate since the Paris terror attacks, has repeatedly attacked that vote on the campaign trail, saying Cruz and fellow GOP candidate and Sen. Rand Paul support weakening the U.S. military and intelligence community.
    "It is easy to talk tough on national security," Rubio said Tuesday in Iowa. "You can't make the sands glow in the dark if you don't have bombs. You can't attack terrorists if you don't know where they are."
    The "sands glow in the dark" line is a direct reference to Cruz -- who used the imagery in December to describe how he'll attack ISIS.
    But while Rubio has clashed with Cruz on surveillance, he has ignored the fact that his surrogates were as strong advocates of the same bill as Cruz.
    "While no piece of legislation is perfect, the USA Freedom Act is critical to ending the unacceptable status quo and better protects Americans' civil liberties," Gowdy said in a press release in May.
    "The USA Freedom Act should be counted as a victory for those fighting for civil liberties and increased government transparency," Issa said in a May statement.
    On the Senate side, two of the three senators who have endorsed Rubio were also supportive of the bill. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, was an original co-sponsor of the legislation, and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, voted in favor of it. Rubio has also been endorsed by Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who did not support the bill.
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    Of the lawmakers who have endorsed Rubio, according to FiveThirtyEight's tracker, all but one of the 21 representatives who have endorsed him and were in Congress at the time voted in favor of the USA Freedom Act. With the senators, only two of the 24 lawmakers who were present then backing Rubio opposed the bill.
    The offices of Gowdy and Gardner did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Daines and Issa stood by their endorsement of Rubio when asked about the apparent contradiction.
    Issa said that Cruz's voting record as a whole "may indicate that he's not serious about real national security," and said Rubio is a better candidate on national security and to run the country.
    "I didn't support Sen. Rubio based on one bill, one law, and I didn't decide him over Cruz based on one," Issa said.
    "As a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, Marco Rubio is uniquely qualified to serve as our president," Daines said in a statement. "While we may have some differing opinions, I believe Marco will be an exceptional commander in chief."
    Asked to comment, the Rubio campaign noted that some of Cruz's supporters, including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, opposed the USA Freedom Act.
    "Sen. Cruz's vote to gut intelligence programs fits with his isolationist positions and votes against defense spending," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant said. "Sen. Cruz is unable to defend the merits of his vote to gut U.S. intelligence programs during a time of great terrorist threat."
    But Cruz has defended his vote in favor of the law, saying it actually made the U.S. safer. In the last GOP debate, Cruz responded to the attack by saying Rubio knows more terrorists are able to be surveilled under the USA Freedom Act.
    "That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism, and he knows that that's the case," Cruz said.