Sen. Rand Paul joined George Stephanopoulos’s “This Week” yesterday to talk unemployment insurance, his plan to sue the NSA, and the prospects of clemency for Edward Snowden. Rep. Peter King chased after him later that afternoon on Fox News to issue a steady stream of condemnations and insults as King steadfastly defended the National Security Agency. If both these men follow through on their indications of joining the 2016 race for the GOP nomination, the debates, at least, promise to be much more colorful.
On Friday, Senator Paul announced that he would be filing a class action lawsuit against the National Security Agency in an effort to try and stop the mass collection of American phone records first revealed by Edward Snowden last summer. Paul had first floated the idea in the weeks following the first Snowden disclosures, and appears to have decided that the time is ripe to proceed. His office told The Hill the suit would be filed in DC “soon,” and Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader reported that the effort had already collected 250,000 sign-ups within 24 hours of the announcement. Queried about the effort by Stephanopoulos, Paul said that the NSA’s current program of mass phone metadata collection constituted a “general warrant,” and “that’s what we fought the revolutionary war over.”
Rep. Peter King, however, being a hawk’s hawk when it comes to national security matters, charged that Paul ”does not know what he’s talking about. And, Rand Paul is really spreading fear among the American people.” King went on to say that the NSA collecting American phone records is “exactly what it’s supposed to be doing.” Not content to leave it there, King said that Paul was “either totally uninformed,” or else “he’s part of that hate America crowd that I thought left us in the 1960s” and “in any event does not deserve to be in the United States Senate.” Previously, when Paul suggested that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ought to share a cell with Snowden for lying to Congress under oath about the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities, King lunged for the cameras, charging that Paul had “disgraced his office” and owed Clapper an apology.
Rand Paul’s political profile was dramatically raised when he engaged in a 13-hour filibuster of CIA nominee John Brennan over the White House’s interpretations of executive war powers for domestic droning, bringing both the issue and the junior senator from Kentucky to national attention. As mentioned, King has indicated that he too may seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, and appears in part to be trying to use Paul’s profile as a way to elevate his own standing. A former chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, the New York representative has a long history of doling out vituperative sound bites as well as standing staunchly in the hawkish corner of his party.
Faced with Paul’s rising popularity amid a libertarian tide, the hawks have been reportedly searching in earnest for a candidate who can advance their message in the 2016 primary campaign, including speculation centering around former UN Ambassador John Bolton. While Bolton might be needed to make the interventionist case, the national security defense will mostly likely be best delivered by Chris Christie, who has more natural political talent than almost anyone operating in either party today. Christie already fired his opening salvos last year in Aspen when he decried an over-intellectualized opposition to the national security state, contrasting it with his experience as a Bush 43-appointed prosecutor in New York post-9/11, meeting with the widows.
Paul is no political slouch, however, and is eminently talented in his own right. With both sides of the national security/civil liberties debate agreed upon the importance of the issue, both should wish for the best of their opposition to run in 2016. Ideas can only ultimately be take hold or be dispelled when they are defended in the public square, as Paul himself proved on the Senate floor last March. Let’s hope our politicians are up to the task in 2016.