In an apparent swipe at Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday blasted politicians who have tried to raise money off of their opposition to the Patriot Act – going as far as calling such actions a “disgrace.”
During his opening remarks at a town hall meeting in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Christie told the crowd that the president’s No. 1 priority is to protect Americans. “And yet, you’ve got folks—some of them running for president—who stood on the floor of the United States Senate and weakened our country and then sent out videos of it to try and raise money.”
“They bragged about how much money they raised … To me, that’s a disgrace,” added the governor, who is expected to announce whether he will officially run for president in the next few weeks. Christie has argued for the re-authorization of the Patriot Act, arguing it’s an important tool to combat terrorism.
It’s an issue that has divided Republicans, and Christie’s latest criticism seems aimed at differentiating himself from the rest of the emerging GOP field.
Paul, who has announced that he’ll seek the 2016 GOP nomination, held an 11-hour filibuster-like speech in May to argue against the government’s surveillance of Americans’ phone records, insisting it tramples of civil liberties and allows the government to spy on innocent people. Afterward, he sent out emails to supporters asking for cash with subject lines like “Last night I put NSA spying on life support.”
On May 31, some provisions of the Patriot Act – including a program allowing the government to collect phone records of millions of Americans – expired after the Senate was unable to pass legislation to extend them. Most of those provisions were eventually restored through the USA Freedom Act earlier this month. However, the law was changed to stop the NSA from continuing its mass phone data collection, with phone companies retaining the data. The NSA can get information about specific individuals if it is approved by a federal court.
Similar to Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has said he is against a clean extension of the Patriot Act. After a recent federal appeals court ruling that the government’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone records is illegal, Cruz said the ruling confirmed what many Americans already know—that the NSA “went too far in collecting phone records.”
Like Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush have argued in favor of the Patriot Act.
Christie has frequently butted heads with Paul over the issue of surveillance. In May, the governor accused Paul of “siding with” NSA leaker Edward Snowden (who the governor called a “criminal”) by opposing efforts to extend the Patriot Act. At the town hall on Friday, Christie painted himself as the only potential or declared candidate who has real world experience fighting terrorism. He pointed to his nomination by then-president George W. Bush to be U.S. Attorney in New Jersey right before the 9/11 attacks and how he used tools, including the Patriot Act, to go after terrorists.
The governor’s trip to the first-in-the-nation caucus state is his first visit there in three months. By contrast, he has taken nine trips to the early voting state of New Hampshire this year alone. Christie told the crowd on Friday that there was a common misconception that his bold and sometimes brash style would not go over well in Iowa. “I haven’t met one person in Iowa who wasn’t direct,” said the governor. Such critics, he insisted, “misunderstand me, and they misunderstand you.”
Surveys indicate Christie would have an uphill battle in the Hawkeye State. According to an average of polling data compiled by RealClearPolitics surrounding the Iowa Republican Presidential Caucus, Christie garners just 4.2% support and is eighth place behind Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (18.2%), Rubio (11%), Paul (8.6%), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (9.4%), Bush (9.2%), Cruz (7.6%) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson (8.4%).