Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got into a heated and emotional exchange over the National Security Agency’s illegal and unpopular bulk phone records spying program at the first Republican presidential primary debate of the 2016 campaign season on Thursday night.
During the Fox News GOP debate, moderator Megyn Kelly asked Chris Christie, “Governor Christie. You’ve said that Senator Paul’s opposition to the NSA’s collection of phone records has made the United States weaker and more vulnerable, even going so far as to say that he should be called before Congress to answer for it if we should be hit by another terrorist attack… Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing he bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?”
Christie, a former federal prosecutor, doubled down on his position. “Yes, I do. And I’ll tell you why: because I’m the only person on this stage who’s actually filed applications under the Patriot Act, who has gone before the federal — the Foreign Intelligence Service court, who has prosecuted and investigated and jailed terrorists in this country after September 11th,” he said.
Christie noted the fact that former President George W. Bush appointed him as a federal prosecutor the day before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. “This is not theoretical to me. I went to the funerals. We lost friends of ours in the Trade Center that day. My own wife was two blocks from the Trade Center that day, at her office, having gone through it that morning. When you actually have to be responsible for doing this, you can do it, and we did it, for seven years in my office, respecting civil liberties and protecting the homeland. And I will make no apologies, ever, for protecting the lives and the safety of the American people. We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way. As president, that is exactly what I’ll do,” he added.
Paul seized the opportunity to respond to the criticism and asked Megyn Kelly for a chance to provide a rebuttal. “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans. The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence, and I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights, and I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights,” he replied.
Christie blasted back, “And — and, Megyn? Megyn, that’s a — that, you know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer. ‘I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.’ How are you supposed to know [who is a terrorist], Megyn?”
Tempers began to flare as the two shouted over each other. Paul yelled, “Use the Fourth Amendment! Get a warrant!”
“Listen, Senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that,” quipped Christie.
Paul then accused Christie of misunderstanding the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and angrily referenced a post Hurricane Sandy photo op, which some Republicans felt hurt Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential chances, in which Chris Christie was seen hugging President Obama. “I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead,” said Paul.
Christie retorted, “Senator Paul, you know, the hugs that I remember are the hugs that I gave to the families who lost their people on September 11th. Those are the hugs I remember, and those had nothing to do — and those had nothing to do with politics, unlike what you’re doing by cutting speeches on the floor of the Senate, then putting them on the Internet within half an hour to raise money for your campaign… and while still putting our country at risk.”
The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf wrote that the exchange reminded him of Rudy Giuliani’s dust-up with former Congressman Ron Paul during the 2008 Republican presidential debates, “A GOP debate stage hasn’t witnessed such naked exploitation of the emotions surrounding 9/11 since Rudy Giuliani used the same manipulative tactic in 2008. Then, as now, there are plenty of people who stood every bit as close to the Twin Towers as they fell and drew opposite conclusions about how to fight the war on terror. Invoking physical proximity to the attacks is an irrational appeal made to avoid the need for a more substantive analysis.”
CNN’s Donna Brazile called Paul and Christie the debate’s “biggest losers” on account of “their bitter clash over NSA surveillance and terrorism” and added that “they offered testosterone with a bit of Tabasco.”
During Fox News’ post-debate coverage, anchor Chris Wallace said that he feels that the Christie-Paul exchange hurt Paul, but at the expense of damaging Christie’s 2016 chances.
On the other hand, CNN contributor Buck Sexton said, “The biggest surprise of the night came from Rand Paul, who showed up ready to fight. The usually laid-back libertarian came out fiery, getting into squabbles with Donald Trump and Christie (winning the latter exchange). If nothing else, Senator Paul reminded America that he’s still in this thing in a meaningful way.”
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