Hawks and libertarians are about to square off in Congress over extending surveillance authority for the feds.
By Manu Raju and Burgess Everett
4/24/15 5:40 AM EDT
Sen. Tom Cotton is preparing for battle against Sen. Rand Paul and the GOP’s libertarian wing over the USA Patriot Act and the power of government to conduct spying operations domestically and abroad.
The 37-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, who vaulted to the Senate this year after a single term in the House, is maneuvering to build support for extending existing surveillance authority for the U.S. government — without the additional safeguards civil libertarians want.
The Arkansas senator, who caused an international firestorm last month with his controversial letter to Iranian leaders, has spent many recent Fridays in Washington at FBI and National Security Agency headquarters, meeting with senior intelligence officials and administration lawyers to build his case for a clean extension of three expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. With the support of GOP leaders, he’s serving as an emissary on the issue to GOP freshmen who are weighing whether to extend the controversial law. And he is seeking to sell his views on surveillance to Republicans from libertarian-minded states through classified briefings conducted by senior intelligence officials.
The emergence of Cotton, an unbending hawk celebrated by neoconservatives as a next-generation party leader on national defense, shows how intent Republican leaders are to prevail over the Paul wing of the GOP. Libertarian-leaning Republicans want to scale back — if not repeal — the Patriot Act before key provisions are set to expire May 31.
In an interview, Cotton warned that he’s determined not to allow views like Paul’s to take hold in today’s Republican party.