Cruz stakes out spot in 2016 Patriot Act fight

Cruz stakes out spot in 2016 Patriot Act fight
© Greg Nash/The Hill

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump walks tightrope on gun control State Department's top arms control official leaving Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first MORE (R-Texas) is cosponsoring a major new surveillance reform bill, as he seeks to thread the needle in an upcoming debate over the Patriot Act.

Cruz, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, on Tuesday put his support behind the USA Freedom Act, which would rein in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and reauthorize portions of the Patriot Act currently set to expire June 1. 

Reauthorizing the law without changes “is not acceptable,” Cruz said in a statement. “It is absolutely critical for Congress to balance the privacy interests of law-abiding citizens against the public’s interest in national security.”

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“The USA Freedom Act of 2015 strikes the right balance by ending the National Security Agency’s unfettered data collection program and implementing other surveillance reforms, while at the same time preserving the government’s ability to obtain information to track down terrorists when it has sufficient justification and support for doing so," he added.

The statement makes Cruz unique among GOP contenders for the White House in 2016. 

While Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — the Republican Party’s most prominent libertarian voice — has previously pledged to oppose any bill to extend the post-9/11 national security law, others such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) have endorsed the spying powers wholeheartedly and scolded those who would seek to rein them in. 

By backing a bill to reform the NSA’s powers while also extending the law, Cruz is placing himself squarely in the middle between the hawks and civil libertarians in the race for the White House.  

The USA Freedom Act would end the NSA’s bulk collection of America’s phone records — which includes data about when phone calls occurred and which numbers were involved, but not what was discussed in the conversations — while also adding new transparency measures and reforming the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. At the same time, it would extend three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act until December 2019.

Last year, Cruz signed on to cosponsor a similar bill, which was ultimately blocked by a filibuster led by Senate GOP leaders. 

The new bill was spearheaded by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), and was also cosponsored by lawmakers as ideologically diverse as Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).