U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner accused Marco Rubio of "McCarthyism" as the GOP hopeful has ramped up criticism of the USA Freedom Act co-authored by the longtime Wisconsin congressman. 

That includes Rubio's suggestion ISIS would have supported the bill, a comment Sensenbrenner said he resents. 

"I don't know why Sen. Rubio would object to it," Sensenbrenner told WisPolitics.com. "But saying that I am ISIS's biggest supporter in Washington being the author of the Freedom Act, I think, is McCarthyism at its worst." 

The legislation, which cleared Congress this summer, made changes to the federal government's bulk collection of phone metadata by the National Security Agency. It also has become a source of contention among several GOP presidential hopefuls, because Sens. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and Rand Paul, of Kentucky, supported the bill. 

During a stop in New Hampshire on Monday, Rubio said he would restore the previous NSA program. 

"If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would have spent millions to support the anti-intelligence law that was just passed with the help of some Republicans now running for president," Rubio said. 

Sensenbrenner fired back in the WisPolitics.com interview that Rubio had a "disconnect" in his argument for bringing back the phone records collection program under the Patriot Act. 

That program went through significant changes under the USA Freedom Act, though they didn't take effect until Nov. 30. The Menomonee Falls Republican pointed out the San Bernardino shooting occurred just days after the old Patriot Act provisions expired. If the previous phone records program was as effective as Rubio and others claimed, Sensenbrenner said, the program should have picked up something on the shooters. 

The USA Freedom Act still lets the government get needed information on potential terrorist activity, Sensenbrenner said. But it has to seek a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get records from phone companies. 

"I don't think that there's anything wrong with going to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and saying, 'We suspect that this guy is up to terrorist activity. Give us an order so that we can get the phone records,'" he said. 

As he looks to 2016, Sensenbrenner, a former Judiciary Committee chairman who continues to serve on the committee, said he's still looking to push bipartisan criminal justice legislation he introduced with Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. The SAFE Justice Act is targeted at reducing the recidivism rate, changing mandatory minimum sentences and aiming to ensure those who leave prison have marketable skills. 

Last year, Sensenbrenner also reached across the aisle in proposing legislation to uphold a key section of the Voting Rights Act that had been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. He said this week his fellow House Republicans don't have an appetite to take up the bill right now, but he plans to push for it again. 

Some states and local governments that had been subjected to preclearance by the federal government of their changes to voting laws complained about being subject to scrutiny that other areas didn't need to go through. Sensenbrenner said his bill would take the program nationwide while creating an incentive to avoid violations of the the law's standards. Those who go 10 years without a violation would no longer be subject to the federal review. 

"There's a carrot and the stick, and the carrot is by following the law and not discriminating, you get out from under preclearance," Sensenbrenner said. 

This week, House Republicans delivered on a longtime promise to put legislation on President Obama's desk that would repeal significant portions of the Affordable Care Act. The president today vetoed the bill. 

But Sensenbrenner said the vote underscores the GOP agenda while also responding to conservatives, particularly those on talk radio, who have complained congressional Republicans have not done enough to stand up to Obama. 

"We are giving people who have complained about us for not standing up to Obama exactly what they asked for. It will put everybody on record on who supports Obama and who does not," Sensenbrenner said, noting it would also save half a trillion dollars over the next decade according to the CBO. 

Sensenbrenner praised House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, for his leadership over the past two months. Sensenbrenner added he believes Ryan will stay on in the position after the 2016 elections if he believes it's important for the country and the party. If not, Sensenbrenner suggested Ryan could go back to being Ways and Means chairman, which would be an unusual move. 

"He's got the respect, and he's got the clout to do that," Sensenbrenner said. "That's one thing that's really important. In the House of Representatives particularly. You earn respect, and Paul has really done that with the record that he has had. If you rank the members from one to 435 on how well respected they are, Paul is No. 1." 

Sensenbrenner, who was elected to the seat in a 1978 special election, announced at the GOP state convention in May he plans to seek re-election in 2016. Assuming he wins -- and he will be heavily favored to do so -- that term would push Sensenbrenner past four decades in the House. 

He didn't sound like someone looking to retire if he wins re-election this fall. He noted he is cancer free after a scare five years ago, just announced more than 40 town hall meetings in his district and spends every weekend back home. He also pointed to the USA Freedom Act as a sign he's still an effective lawmaker, saying he started the process "with everybody in this town against me." In the end, he said, he picked them off one by one except for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Even so, a sizable chunk of Senate Republicans voted for the bill and against their leader. 

"I'm kind of a can-do person," Sensenbrenner said. "One of the things that I've demonstrated is that I'm conservative. I have not in any way compromised my principles, but I'm able to reach across the aisle on certain issues and get support there. There are not many of us in the Congress that can do that." 


Listen to the full interview here.

View this article online here.