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White House Swipes at Rand Paul’s 'Political Ambitions' in Patriot Act Debate

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Republican Leadership Summit Saturday, April 18, 2015, in Nashua, N.H. (Image source: AP/Jim Cole)

The White House on Tuesday unsubtly dinged Republican presidential candidate and Sen. Rand Paul's "political ambitions" as getting in the way of U.S. national security for Paul's attempts to block the renewal of the USA Patriot Act.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the Patriot Act and USA Freedom Act — a separate bill that had passed the House to address the National Security Agency data collection — was a bipartisan compromise to protect security and civil liberties.

“Every single Democrat in the United States Senate voted for this compromise. What we are seeing is a difference of opinion on the Republican side of the aisle,” Earnest said. “At some, the political ambitions of individual members of the United States Senate are going to have to come second to the national security of the United States.”

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Paul is at odds with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who pushed for the renewal of the law.

Paul spoke on the Senate floor for more than 10 hours opposing the reauthorization of parts of the Patriot Act. Some Senate Republicans blocked the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the NSA’s bulk data collection but allowed it to still search records on a case-by-case basis. Obama and House Republicans backed the bill.

In an interview with CBS News Tuesday, Paul said that Obama could have implemented the USA Freedom Act without Congress.

“Here’s the thing about the president – he’s disingenuous about this. The president started the program through executive order, he can end it at any time,” Paul said. “The Second Court of Appeals – the court right below the Supreme Court – said that it’s illegal. Why doesn’t he stop it? What’s he waiting for? He says, ‘Oh, Congress can stop it.’ He started it on his own, he should stop it. And I’ve asked the president repeatedly to stop the program.”

Earnest told reporters that the matter is something Congress would have to act on.

However, in January, the bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board issued a report saying the president has the authority to end the bulk data collection entirely.

“Illegal spying is unconstitutional and unnecessary, period, and President's Obama abandonment of his promise to end illegal surveillance is another debased example of a White House that prioritizes their own power over protecting the liberty of the American people,” Paul campaign spokesman Joe Kildea told TheBlaze. “Sen. Paul is committed to keeping America safe from terrorists while at the same time preserving our rights and freedoms. Law enforcement groups have said domestic bulk data collection has not resulted in a single terrorist arrest or thwarted terror plot and our courts have ruled to be illegal - it’s time to end it.”

After meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday, Obama said he "strongly urge[s] the Senate to work through this recess and make sure that they identify a way to get this done.”

“Keep in mind that the most controversial provision in there, which had to do with the gathering of telephone exchanges in a single government database -- that has been reformed in the USA Freedom Act. But you have a whole range of authorities that are also embodied in the Patriot Act that are noncontroversial, that everybody agrees are necessary to keep us safe and secure. Those also are at risk of lapsing," Obama said.

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