Tuesday night, Republicans properly blocked the Obama-supported (and misleadingly titled) USA Freedom Act. The bill would have expanded the requirement for judicial warrants before the intelligence agencies could use metadata (phone-call information, not content) to try to track down suspected terrorists. The law would have hamstrung the ability of the NSA to use our technological advantages in a war against al-Qaeda and associated groups, such as the Islamic State, who threaten to attack the U.S. and our allies (a war that is going very poorly for us right now).
Under the Supreme Court case of Maryland v. Smith, metadata (such as phone numbers called, duration of call, etc) is not covered by the Fourth Amendment – only the the content of such calls is. Those who believe civil liberties are under threat, therefore, wanted to restrict our intelligence agencies far more than current practice or Supreme Court cases require. This would be a mistake as the threat to our nation, thanks to the Obama administration’s lack of strategy and political will, has increased, rather than fallen, in the last few years. Look at the rise of the Islamic State — a terrorist group that controls large amounts of territory, resources, and population and wants to do us harm.
The vote last night also contains important lessons about 2016. Ted Cruz voted for the bill (by voting to overcome the filibuster), which makes me doubt for the first time whether he understands national-security issues sufficiently to become president. Rand Paul, signaling yet again that he should remain in the Senate and stay out of the Oval Office, voted against the bill because it did not go far enough in restricting the government. Apparently, Paul said that Congress should repeal the Patriot Act too — which leads me to think he hasn’t read it. The only 2016 contender, I think, who voted the right way was Marco Rubio, who joined soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support the filibuster and kill the bill.
Only Rubio, who hasn’t been as eager in the early going as have Cruz and Paul, passed the national-security test last night.