The NSA programs of acquiring broad amounts of telephone and Internet data have drawn support from both Republicans and Democrats, including the leading members of both parties on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss. While some in the GOP, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are standing by their principles, others such as Sen. Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appear to trust Obama only when it suits their agenda.
In a statement, Chambliss says that these "lawful intelligence activities must continue, with the careful oversight of the executive …" This is surprising coming from the same man who believes that President Obama was misleading the American people: "What Susan Rice said was exactly what President Obama told her to say … They were about ready to throw her under the bus." He later added, "I do think that there were some politics involved in the message that the White House wanted to send."
Talking about the IRS and Benghazi scandals, Sen. Lindsey Graham commented, "The Obama administration is not a victim of anything other than their excess abuse of power," calling Obama's actions "every bit as damaging as Watergate."
However, Graham does not seem to have an issue with the same administration that was "spinning the American people" and "stonewalling the Congress" while acquiring masses of telephone and Internet data on American and foreign citizens. Defending the NSA, Graham told Fox & Friends that "I'm glad the NSA is trying to find out what the terrorists are up to overseas and in our country."
While neither Chambliss's nor Graham's mistrust of Obama is necessarily problematic, it is difficult to "square the circle" as to why the White House cannot be trusted to run the IRS or secure diplomatic compounds, but can be trusted with voluminous quantities of personal data.
On the libertarian right, congressmen have been far more consistent in their views. Sen. Rand Paul condemned the NSA surveillance as "an astounding assault on the Constitution," adding, "After revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted political dissidents and the Department of Justice seized reporters' phone records, it would appear that this administration has now sunk to a new low."
Sen. Graham has even gone as far as to attack Rand Paul for criticizing the White House: "I see the threat to the average American, radical Islam coming to our backyard trying to destroy our way of life. He sees the threat (from) the government that's trying to stop the attack. I'm more threatened by the radical Islamists than I am the government agencies who are trying to protect us."
While Republicans continue to push the Benghazi and IRS scandals, the choice of many to defend Obama’s use of the NSA suggests that Republicans may actually care about the policy enough not to exploit the issue and use it as part of the giant scandal narrative, which would seem to be the smart political play.
But then what does that say of the GOP's bashing of Obama for Benghazi and the IRS scandals? It is an implicit confession that the rhetoric of Obama not being trustworthy because of the IRS scandal and an imaginary presidential Benghazi cover-up was an exaggeration, since they can apparently simultaneously trust Obama to run a massive data mining operation.
The reason appears all too clear. Of those now silent in the GOP, a majority of them voted to extend the Patriot Act in 2011.
On the other hand, a select few libertarian Republicans like Sen. Paul are rightfully joining with many Democrats was well as the the New York Times editorial board — who wrote "Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it" — in condemning an abuse of power that, for once, does go all the way to the president.