OKLAHOMA CITY — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie slammed the Patriot Act’s critics on Friday for engaging in a “very dangerous debate.”
“This debate that we’re having right now about the Patriot Act — it’s is a very dangerous debate because it’s done by people with no experience dealing what I’ve dealt with,” Christie said. “I’m the only person in this national conversation who has used the Patriot Act, signed off on it, convicted terrorists because of it.”
Presidential candidate and Republican Sen. Rand Paul has been the most vocal critic of the act, part of which has allowed for bulk data collection by the NSA and is set to expire on June 1. Paul spoke for ten-and-a-half hours in a “talking filibuster” to protest the Patriot Act’s re-authorization, helping to delay the vote to Saturday in the Senate. His epic talk-a-thon also means that it’s likely to expire temporarily since the House of Representatives is already in recess for the holiday weekend. A bipartisan group of senators assisted Paul by asking questions during the filibuster, a tactic designed to give the speaker a break.
Christie — who is expected to mount his own presidential campaign — said there’s a “responsible” way to oversee the laws, and that the current critics were being irresponsible in the debate about the law.
“These same folks who are criticizing it now will be the same people who will stand on Capitol Hill if there’s another attack on America and interrogate the CIA director and FBI director and say why they didn’t connect and not see the hypocrisy in their own actions,” he said to big cheers, speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, where Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are canceling in-person appearances because of the planned Saturday votes.
Likely presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has had a difficult time appealing to hard line conservatives on social issues in particular, agreed with Christie, saying the Patriot Act should be reauthorized. The pair of governors will struggle among some of the most conservative voters, as they’re seen as more moderate on a handful of issues. As such, both sought to assure the crowd they’re conservative enough.
Bush talked up his conservative credentials and worked to convince the crowd that he is an effective leader with executive experience in a purple state.
“We took on the public unions and we won. We took on the teacher’s unions and we won. We took on the broken worker’s compensation system and we won,” he said, continuing to enumerate his record despite applause that drowned him out. “I’m proud of that record and i believe there’s a direct role for the next president of the United State to apply the kind of principles that we applied in the state of Florida to Washington, D.C.”
Bush and Christie both spoke on Friday morning, where they largely impressed the audience in equal amounts; the crowd particularly approved of the conservative credentials Bush championed, like high grade ratings from the National Rifle Association.
On the other hand, Christie boasted of his work as a U.S. Attorney and worked to introduce himself to the conservative crowd — the New Jersey governor doesn’t always attend these GOP cattle calls. He also portrayed himself as a more hawkish, safety-oriented potential candidate.
“I love this country and I want this country to be safe for my children,” he said. “I will fight for it with every ounce of energy. I have to return America to the promise and prosperity at home and leadership around the world, if you give me a chance. That’s why I came to Oklahoma.”
Christie also seemed to offer a defense — and some spin — about his often blunt style, particularly highlighted in an expletive-laden speech on Thursday.
Recounting his late mother’s advice, Christie said he knew she’d advise him to speak plainly in a presidential bid.
“[She’d say] you better tell them what’s on your mind and in your heart and you better not mince words because they need to trust you,” he said. “That’s why I act the way I act, some days it may make you feel great and cheer, and other days you may wince and say I can’t believe he said that! But here’s what you’ll never have to say — you’ll never have to say I wonder what he thinks.”