Patriot Act Showdown Looms For Republican Presidential Field

One of the first fights of the Republican presidential primary season will be over U.S. spying.

Congress’s upcoming debate over reforming government surveillance and extending portions of the Patriot Act will ensnare Republicans with their eyes on the White House — drawing a clear divide between the hawkish and libertarian-leaning contenders.

Ahead of a critical June 1 deadline, GOP candidates have already begun to weigh in. 

“Sadly, one GOP candidate thinks the NSA’s [National Security Agency] violation of your rights is ‘very important,’ ” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tweeted over the weekend. “On day one in the Oval Office, I will END the NSA’s illegal assault on your rights.”

The comment was a swipe at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who has jumped at the opportunity to defend the NSA’s collection of data about millions of people in the U.S. Not only is the program in the best interests of the nation, he has said, but it’s also “the best part of the Obama administration.”  

The combative rhetoric, from Paul especially, is sure to heat up in coming weeks, as lawmakers begin debating proposals to reauthorize an expiring provision in the Patriot Act that gives the NSA authority to collect phone records without a warrant.

The debate could be a chance to shine for Paul, who called the NSA program unconstitutional in a lawsuit against the Obama administration last year, though he will have to walk a fine line between sticking to his guns and alienating GOP leadership.

“The problem here is, when you go through the Republican primary, particularly one as crowded as this … you’ve got to make sure that the core supporters are with you from the outset, because the way you’re going to win this is by basically growing [that base] over time,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “If they’re not with you, and they think that you’ve flip-flopped on this issue, which is so important to his supporters, he’d be dead in the water.”

Read more from Julian Hattem at The Hill

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