Like a stand-up comedian with a political edge, Rand Paul deployed some witty one-liners after President Barack Obama’s comments on Friday about reforming the National Security Agency.
“What I think I heard is that if you like your privacy, you can keep it,” Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “But in the meantime, we’re going to keep collecting your phone records, your email, your text messages and, likely, your credit card information.”
In Friday's speech, Obama called for limited reforms on how the NSA collects information, promising that the United States would no longer eavesdrop on world leaders and would rein in the vast collection of Americans' phone data.
"The reforms I'm proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe," the president said.
Aside from the promise not to eavesdrop on world leaders, Obama largely left other proposed reforms up for discussion, effectively shifting the debate to congressional leaders.
Paul had another snappy response, when noting that Obama referenced American Revolution figure Paul Revere in his remarks.
“He mentioned Paul Revere. But Paul Revere was warning us about the British coming,” Paul said. “He wasn’t warning us that the Americans are coming.”
Later in the interview, Paul said he’s opposed to all massive data collection, by both the federal government and the private sector. Beyond civil liberty concerns, Paul said such massive surveillance just isn’t practical.
“Who are we going to hire, Eric Snowden’s contractor to hold all the information?” Paul said, laughing at his own joke.
Paul said Snowden “probably” broke the law in his leaking of classified information but said it is also the catalyst for the current debate over surveillance reform.
“I don’t think we’d be here, and I think there’d be absolutely no reform had there not been the releases by Snowden,” Paul said.
In a formal statement, Paul was more nuanced in his response:
"While I am encouraged the President is addressing the NSA spying program because of pressure from Congress and the American people, I am disappointed in the details. The Fourth Amendment requires an individualized warrant based on probable cause before the government can search phone records and e-mails.”
Since first being elected to the Senate in the 2010 midterm elections, Paul has experienced a rapid ascent within the Republican Party, in part due to the legacy of his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, arguably the leading figure of the libertarian movement.
However, Paul has managed to expand his reach to mainstream Republican circles and is considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate. Most recent polls show Paul trailing only behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, his political and ideological rival, in the race for the Republican nomination.
Regardless of whether he runs for president, Paul is likely to stay in the spotlight targeting the NSA issue. He told Blitzer that he doesn’t expect the debate to end soon.
“This is something that is going to have to be decided by the Supreme Court,” he said.