(Talk Media News) — Sparks flew early and they flew often throughout the course of Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate, but the night’s highlights came at the hands of Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), who sparred over national security most of the evening.
While many expected the story of the night to be the controversial comments of the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, and his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, it was the second and third place candidates who made headlines.
At the height of the argument came over the very real division among many lawmakers in Congress over the vote to roll back some of the surveillance authorities granted to American intelligence agencies earlier this year, especially in the aftermath of both the Paris terrorist attacks and the more recent attacks in San Bernardino, Calif.
Rubio slammed Cruz’s vote to roll back those powers, calling the bill, which is now law, a mistake that weakens the United States’ ability to detect and defend against potential terrorist attacks.
“We are now at a time when we need more tools, not less tools,” Rubio said Tuesday. “I promise you, the next time there is attack on — an attack on this country, the first thing people are going to want to know is, why didn’t we know about it and why didn’t we stop it? And the answer better not be because we didn’t have access to records or information that would have allowed us to identify these killers before they attacked.”
Cruz defended his vote as one that curbed the National Security Agency’s ability to collect the metadata of Americans in bulk, arguing that it gave back a measure of privacy to Americans.
The Texas Republican didn’t take the hit sitting down, however, and immediately took aim at Rubio’s record on immigration. More specifically, his work on a bipartisan immigration bill that died in the House of Representatives back in 2013.
“Border security is national security, and you know one of the most troubling aspects of the Rubio-Schumer Gang of Eight bill was that it gave President Obama blanket authority to admit refugees, including Syrian refugees, without mandating any background checks whatsoever,” Cruz said. “Now, we’ve seen what happened in San Bernardino. When you’re letting people in, when the FBI can’t vet them, it puts American citizens at risk.”
Rubio was a key part of that immigration bill, and was pegged by Cruz throughout the course of the debate as siding with Democrats.
2013’s immigration reform bill would have increased border security, and once those programs were in place, would have allowed for a pathway to citizenship.
The Florida Republican said that he is always “puzzled” when Cruz attacks him on that bill, saying that Cruz has backed similar policies in the past, with regards to an increase in green cards being issued.
Cruz has vehemently denied that assertion, and did the same on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s debate came at a pivotal moment for both candidates, with Cruz in second place among national polls, and even ahead of Trump in some Iowa polls. Rubio, on the back of steady debate performances in recent months, has climbed to third.