Hawks emboldened after Paris

Hawks emboldened after Paris
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The terrorist attacks in Paris have given leverage to Washington’s national security hawks, empowering them to push aggressive policies while painting President Obama as feckless. 

Months after civil libertarians on and off Capitol Hill forced the first significant rollback in federal spying efforts in decades, the political tables appear to have turned, with hawks seizing on the growing threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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“It’s just astonishing to me how those advocates of ridding us of any government involvement in our lives have now become strangely quiet,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Meghan McCain swipes at Sanders: 'Don't you dare lecture Biden about cancer' MORE (R-Ariz.) deadpanned Wednesday.

The shift in momentum is putting advocates of surveillance reform, such as Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPaul calls into Wyoming TV station to talk Cheney feud Liz Cheney and Rand Paul extend war of words Marijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis MORE, on defense. The Kentucky Republican, who is running for the presidency, took a hard line against National Security Agency (NSA) spying earlier this year, railing against it on the Senate floor in a 10-hour speech.

“I look forward to the next filibuster,” quipped McCain, who has frequently clashed with Paul in the Senate.

Eleanor May, a spokeswoman for Paul’s campaign, insisted that the country would not be better off with sweeping surveillance powers that have not conclusively been proven effective.

“If we give up our liberty for a false sense of security, the terrorists are winning,” May said.

Still, Paul this week offered up legislation suspending visas to people from countries with “significant jihadist movements,” in what seemed to be a move to shore up his right flank.

While the attention on Capitol Hill this week has focused on halting the flow of Syrian refugees, emboldened conservatives are also pushing back on this summer’s surveillance reform legislation and warning of the threat from encryption technologies that cannot be cracked by the government.

 “I will fight to restore the Patriot Act’s metadata program to ensure we have the ability to connect the dots between known foreign terrorists and potential operatives here in the United States,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), another White House contender, said in a speech at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday.

The NSA metadata program collects records about the numbers people dial during a phone call and when, but not the content of their conversations. Up against a deadline this summer, Congress passed legislation mandating that the program expire later this month. 

“If ever there were a time for such a program, it is now,” Bush added, “and yet too few in Congress were courageous enough to defend this program when it mattered most.” 

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joins CBS News as contributor Trump: Bolton 'was holding me back' on Venezuela MORE (R-Fla.), another presidential hopeful, is also lunging headfirst into the debate.

The senator was already on the rise in the 2016 race, and his status as perhaps the most hawkish of the major contenders has put him in a prime position to bash his opponents as either weak on security or simply uninformed.

This week, Rubio went on the attack against Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from Houston debate Ted Cruz says he hopes to 'run again' for White House Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks MORE (R-Texas), who isn’t as far right as Paul on surveillance but nonetheless supported legislation to rein in the NSA.

“At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to be president — Sen. Cruz in particular — have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence program,” Rubio said at a conference on Monday. “The weakening of our intelligence gathering capabilities leaves America vulnerable, and that is exactly what’s happened.”

“We have a race for commander in chief and this is the most important obligation of a president, to keep this country safe,” he added on Tuesday, explaining the remarks.

On Wednesday, Rubio signed on to a bill authored by prominent hawk Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonMeadows, Cotton introduce bill to prevent district judges from blocking federal policy changes GOP senator defends Trump idea to buy Greenland GOP senator says he suggested Greenland purchase to Trump, met with Danish ambassador MORE (R-Ark.) that would push back the deadline for ending the NSA metadata program from Nov. 29 to January of 2017.

The shift to a national security focus is testing the leading “outsider” candidates in the Republican race, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Trump is failing on trade policy Trump holds call with Netanyahu to discuss possible US-Israel defense treaty MORE and Ben Carson.

Trump is still firmly atop the GOP polls after Paris and has offered tough talk on ISIS, which he has pledged to “bomb the s--- out of.”

And with Congress poised to clamp down on refugees coming into the United States, the real estate mogul’s long-standing message about the need for stronger border controls appears to be in sync with the political moment.

Carson, however, has appeared to struggle at times with foreign policy questions, and was hit with a critical New York Times story on Wednesday that quoted an adviser saying the former neurosurgeon has not been able to grasp “one iota of intelligence information about the Middle East.”

Civil libertarians, for their part, hope to ride out the storm. They point to Congress’s quick embrace of the Patriot Act in the days after 9/11 as a warning against hasty legislative action.

“The lesson of the past decade is that sometimes after tragic events, people take advantage of those moments or react to those moments in ways that don’t actually protect the civil liberties and the freedoms that we’re fighting for,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We have to be careful that we don’t advance solutions that are not solutions at all and are actually contributing to a degradation of our rights.”