Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine Senate eyes plan B amid defense bill standoff To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors MORE (R-Fla.) is criticizing President Obama for trying to “unilaterally disarm” the government’s intelligence capabilities.
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times published on Friday, the potential presidential candidate lashed out at the White House’s plan to end the National Security Agency's collection of records about Americans’ phone calls.
“Perhaps the most important obligation the federal government has is our national security, and in the 21st century, you have not just nation states but nonstate actors who are constantly plotting to attack Americans,” he told the newspaper.
“We cannot unilaterally disarm in terms of our intelligence-gathering capabilities. … It makes the country less safe."
Rubio’s comments seem particularly pointed at Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a potential rival for the GOP presidential nomination.
Paul has been one of the most vocal opponents of the NSA’s surveillance, and appeared with fellow critics in the Senate for a sort of victory lap this week, after reports emerged about the White House’s plans. He has also launched a class action lawsuit against the Obama administration over the government’s collection of people’s phone records, which he says is unconstitutional.
Rubio, meanwhile, has distanced himself from Paul’s libertarian leanings on national security and intelligence issues.
He told the Times that “paranoia” about the NSA’s operations “goes beyond the issue at hand.”
The NSA program collects information about which numbers people dial as well as the length and frequency of their calls, but not the content of their conversations. Intelligence agency leaders say the effort is necessary to connect the dots between terrorist targets.
This week, the Obama administration proposed ending the spy agency’s bulk collection of phone records and allowing government agents to search private telecom companies’ databases only with a court order. The effort would need congressional approval before being enacted.