Libertarian favorite Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., stood with liberal Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Jon Tester of Montana in criticizing the court-approved gathering of the telecom data. “Can the FBI or the NSA really claim that they need data scooped up on tens of millions of Americans?” Merkley asked.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina stood with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California in defending the collection of telecom data.“This program has strong restrictions on it,” Feinstein -- who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- assured NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “The data are just phone numbers and trunk lines; there's no content. It is put behind a wall. The only way it can be used is if there is strict scrutiny -- reasonable, articulable knowledge that this can connect to a terrorist attack, either under way or under planning or some conspiracy.”
But Paul portrayed the collection of telephone data as “an astounding assault on the Constitution. After revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political dissidents and the Justice Department seized reporters' phone records, it would appear that this Administration has now sunk to a new low.”
Paul -- a potential contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 -- noted that he’d offered an amendment last year that would have attached Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But it was defeated -- and in fact got only 12 votes.
That vote revealed the way terrorism can alter the political lineup; only two other GOP senators supported Paul on his amendment: Mike Lee of Utah and Dean Heller of Nevada. The majority of the support came from Democrats -- nine lawmakers, including Merkley and Tester -- voted for Paul’s amendment.
NBC's Pete Williams reports on the secret collection of phone records and why this practice was renewed. Williams also explains why the White House hasn't officially confirmed or denied this report.On terrorism policies, Paul appears to be a minority within his own party.
On issues like abortion, gun control or “Obamacare,” Democrats Merkley and Feinstein have voted the same -- and on the opposite side from Paul. But on the collection of telephone data the Democrats clash.
Terrorism policies have a way of the jarring the usual left-versus-right categories: instead, it’s libertarian mistrust of executive power (Merkley and Paul) versus a willingness to allow extraordinary steps to defeat and deter terrorists (Graham and Feinstein).
This extends to the issue of using drones overseas against terrorist suspects. Referring to conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Democrat Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota noted in April that “You know we’re in strange territory when Sen. Cruz and