I wrote here and here about what I take to be Marco Rubio’s greatest vulnerability in the GOP presidential race — his sponsorship of immigration reform legislation that would have granted amnesty and a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants. However, one views the merits of Rubio’s Gang of Eight legislation, I think it’s beyond dispute that this represents a serious problem for his campaign. Not surprisingly, Ted Cruz is beginning to home in on it.
But in my view, Cruz has an important area of vulnerability too — terrorist surveillance — and Rubio is now highlighting it.
Cruz’s vulnerability stems from his support of the USA Freedom Act. This is the bill that eliminated the federal bulk collection of telephone records. Instead, phone companies will retain the data and the NSA can obtain information about targeted individuals with permission from a federal court. Merits aside, this looks like a potential problem for Cruz given the clear and present danger that ISIS will conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Rubio’s vulnerability on immigration is reflected by the fact of his collaboration, as a co-sponsor of the Gang of Eight legislation, with the likes of Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin. President Obama was eager, to the say the least, to sign Rubio’s bill.
In the case of the USA Freedom Act, Cruz was a co-sponsor along with Schumer, Durbin, and the likes of Al Franken, Patty Murray, and Barbara Boxer. President Obama was also a big fan of the USA Freedom Act. After it passed, he tweeted, “Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act. It protects civil liberties and our national security. I’ll sign it as soon as I get it.”
Rubio voted against the USA Freedom Act and was one of its leading critics. He was joined by, among others, Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, Ben Sasse, and Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders, and few others also voted against the bill. In their view, it doesn’t restrict the government enough. The final tally was 67 for, 32 against.
Cruz, it should also be noted, took to the floor to lavish praise on Rand Paul for his 12-hour filibuster against the USA Freedom Act which, as noted, Cruz co-sponsored. I’m putting this in the “never miss an opportunity to be an opportunist” file, right next to Cruz’s “stand with Rand” during the Kentucky Senator’s ill-advised, if not absurd, filibuster regarding drones.
Cruz may be less vulnerable due to his support of the USA Freedom Act than Rubio is as a result of supporting amnesty and a path to citizenship. In this election, immigration looks clearly like a bigger issue for conservatives than surveillance, and it’s likely to remain so even after the Paris attacks. It may also be the case that conservatives in the Republican base are more closely divided on surveillance (even after Paris) than they are on immigration.
Personally, I hold both stances, Rubio’s and Cruz’s, strongly against the candidates. Unfortunately, the alternatives on the main stage the other night consisted of three candidates with no experience in office (and no concrete record against which to compare Rubio’s and Cruz’s); a former governor whose views on immigration are quite similar to Rubio’s; a Senator whose position on surveillance is worse (in my view) than Cruz’s; and a cranky governor intent on making it clear that he’s the least conservative candidate in the field.
In this context, Rubio and Cruz don’t look so bad.