#PhonyTedCruz: Rubio vs. Cruz war heats up as rival campaigns bicker over NSA surveillance

Rubio goes after his Senate collegaues Ted Cruz and Rand Paul for their opposition to NSA bulk data collection

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published November 17, 2015 4:15PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Adrees Latif/Jason Reed)
(Reuters/Adrees Latif/Jason Reed)

Marco Rubio is out to set himself apart from the crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls by staking out the most hawkish positions on every national security and foreign policy issue, and now he is working to paint his rivals as weak on national security, pointing to their past opposition to the massive surveillance operation of the National Security Agency (NSA).

Rubio specifically called out Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul for working to "weaken" national security. Calling it "a distinctive issue of debate in the presidential race,” Rubio slammed his senate colleagues for their votes to reform the NSA's massive domestic surveillance programs.

Paul single-handedly forced a temporary lapse in the Patriot Act when he filibustered the bill's reauthorization earlier this year -- a move supported by Cruz. The Senate eventually voted to end the bulk collection of data under the NSA. Rubio was one of 32 senators to vote against the change. Cruz voted for it and Paul offered an alternative bill that would have gone even further to restrict the surveillance program.

“At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to be president, Sen. Cruz in particular, have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence program,” Rubio told corporate executives gathered at the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C. at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting on Monday. “Weakening our intelligence-gathering capabilities leaves America vulnerable,” the hawkish freshman Florida senator said.

"We are vulnerable. What happened in Paris could happen in a major American city at any moment at any time,” he said. "The United States government has neither the competence, the money, or the time to spy on every American,” Rubio told the crowd. "But we need to have access to this information to save American lives."

Rubio's targeted swipe comes a week after Cruz took a direct swing at his Tea Party compatriot for his part support for comprehensive immigration reform. Now the respective campaigns are sparring over the NSA vote on Twitter. According to U.S. News and World Reports, Rubio's campaign aides began a hashtag on Twitter: #PhonyTedCruz. Rubio's communications director spent the better part of Tuesday morning tweeting about Cruz's NSA vote:

And Ted Cruz spokesman Rick Tyler deflected Rubio's criticism by pointing to other GOP senators who voted against the legislation:

And the family fight is spreading outside of the Republican primary sphere, with Utah Sen. Mike Lee's communications director pushing back against Team Marco's latest line of attack. Lee sponsored the reform bill:

"It seems troubling that Sen. Rubio would advocate for illegal mass data collection from regular American citizens while opposing extra scrutiny for those who are trying to come into our country from abroad,” a Paul spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Republican Primary Gop Civil War Marco Rubio Nsa Surveillance Patriot Act Ted Cruz