Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Marco Rubio cites Boston bombing in defense of phone monitoring

Sen. Marco Rubio said the government surveillance program that leapt back into the news last week is subject to "intense congressional oversight" and represents a difficult balance of privacy issues and national security interests.

He also suggested it's here to stay.

"Much of what that program involves is classified," Rubio said in an interview Thursday with Florida reporters, referring to National Security Agency phone monitoring. "I'll tell you that program is part of intense congressional oversight. It's a program members are aware of and they get to review from time to time and see how it's being applied."

A member of the Intelligence Committee, Rubio hedged when asked if the phone monitoring program was being misused.

"I think our intelligence community works really hard and does an excellent job of trying to protect Americans. They won't always get it right. There are always ways to improve programs and ongoing oversight is important. But they have a tough job."

Asked if the monitoring will ever recede, or if this is a new reality, Rubio implied the latter.

"The threat that we face — largely radical, political Islamists — is probably a threat that is going to exist for the rest of our lifetimes. It's just the reality. We have to deal with it. The world changed after 9/11, and it changed after Boston. It's just a struggle to try to balance our deeply held convictions of privacy and freedoms and liberties with our need to provide for national security."

Other lawmakers have taken a tougher approach, blasting the secret spying program.

"The American people don't want the government snooping into their private lives," said Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. "They deserve answers as to why this amount of information was deemed vital to national security."

Opportunity knocks

Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, sent a memo last week to GOP members of Congress up for re-election next year: Use the IRS scandal, early and often.

"You can employ the IRS scandal to conduct oversight of the legislative branch, scrutinizing the investigation and ensuring no stone is left unturned. The Obama administration needs to be held accountable for its involvement. … I encourage you to thoughtfully and methodically shine a light on this corrupted corner of government. In so doing, we will have an opportunity to positively affect policy and re-evaluate the size, scope and role of the IRS.

"The Democrats seem comfortable with an all-powerful agency that can investigate on a whim and destroy lives at will. And why wouldn't they be comfortable? The IRS didn't target liberal groups. I encourage you to use this in your campaigns. When you're on the trail, ask your Democrat opponents: Are you comfortable with the IRS overseeing your health care? Why? Would you hold the Obama administration responsible for their hand in the IRS scandal? How?"

Romney's regret

Mitt Romney's presidential hopes were severely damaged after a fundraiser in Boca Raton last year where he uttered the infamous "47 percent" comment about half the public being reliant on government. In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Romney said he regretted the comment but also complained about the way it was portrayed.

"One of the interesting things about campaigns today, unlike probably 25 or 30 years ago, is that everything you say is being recorded. Now and then, things don't come out exactly the way you want them to come out. And now, with a good opposition campaign, they grab it, they blow it up. … But that's just the nature of politics today and you have to get over it and live with it."

Roof will have to wait

Even in St. Petersburg, few people have heard of the Fannye Ponder Council House. So it was a surprise when a $78,500 earmark for the home of the late community leader appeared in this year's state budget.

The house on Ninth Avenue S is owned by the Metropolitan Council of Negro Women. Board member Signora Farris told Buzz the 1,500-square-foot house needs roofing and electrical work but she did not know where the $78,500 figure came from.

Nor did the Florida Department of State, which normally vets historical preservation projects but was clueless about the Ponder item. A spokesman said he assumed state Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, had put it in the budget.

Rouson would neither confirm nor deny that when a reporter called him. But it turns out the new president of the Metropolitan Council of Negro Women is Rouson's wife, Angela.

Whatever work the Ponder House needs will have to wait. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the item, though he did throw Angela Rouson a small bone last week: He reappointed her to the board of the Pinellas Housing Authority.

Times staff writer Susan Taylor Martin contributed to this Buzz.

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