More than six months ago, Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner won a broad, bipartisan victory in his push to reform the Patriot Act.

Now, he's fending off claims by one of his party's leading presidential candidates that his legislation weakened national security.

Sensenbrenner calls those claims by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio "political posturing."

At issue: the National Security Agency's mass collection and storage of phone "metadata" — records of whom Americans call and when (not the content of those calls).

That program "was not effective" in preventing terrorism, Sensenbrenner said in an interview Wednesday. "It didn't stop anything. Why should innocent Americans' phone records be grabbed by the government when it's of no use at all?"

In the aftermath of the Paris and California attacks, Rubio has sponsored a bill to restore the NSA program and has stepped up his criticism of Sensenbrenner's legislation, known as the USA Freedom Act.

"If, God forbid, there's an attack tomorrow morning in another major U.S. city, the first question everyone is going to have is: Why didn't we know about them, and how come we didn't stop it?" Rubio said Sunday night on Fox News. "And the answer better not be: Because a tool we once had that could have allowed us to identify them is no longer available to us. And there are members of my party that through their votes, and by siding with isolationists and people who hold on to these theories that are false, have put potentially our nation in a position where we can't gather this information any longer."

Rubio has sought to use the issue against a GOP presidential rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who voted for Sensenbrenner's bill.

"He's wrong," said Sensenbrenner, who hasn't endorsed in the GOP presidential race.

"I have worked on the issue since 9-11...When the NSA was asked to provide which terrorist plot in the U.S. was stopped as a result of the metadata collection, there was no evidence any of it was stopped, including the Boston Marathon bombing," said Sensenbrenner, who was the lead author of the original Patriot Act in 2001.

Supporters of the mass surveillance program are "still operating under the assumption that everything that the NSA does is good and is effective and helps protect Americans," said the lawmaker.

Sensenbrenner notes that the NSA program was still in effect during the run-up to both the Paris and California attacks. It didn't actually end until Dec. 1.

A White House official said Wednesday that the data was only used to investigate individuals after a suspect had been identified, so it would not have come into play in the San Bernadino case, where the perpetrators were not under suspicion before that attack.

And the data will still be available in terrorism investigations. The primary difference now is that the records will be kept by the phone companies, not stored by the government, and investigators will get a court order to obtain them when needed.

"If the U.S. government wants to access it, they can (do it) as soon as you have a terrorism suspect," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told a small group of reporters when asked about the issue at a briefing. "We don't see any need to change the reform" that was enacted this past summer.

While Sensenbrenner's bill passed both houses this summer with huge, bipartisan majorities, the issue still sparks divisions within the GOP over the proper balance between civil liberties and national security.

Among those siding with Rubio is presidential hopeful and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said this week: "The end of the metadata program has made America weaker and more vulnerable. The San Bernardino terrorist attack should prove to everyone just how exposed we are as a nation."

Gov. Scott Walker supported the NSA's bulk data collection when he was running for president earlier this year, a position that drew fire from Sensenbrenner. Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security panel, also favors restoring the program. Johnson voted for Sensenbrenner's bill last June but says he did so because it renewed other parts of the Patriot Act that he supports.

But there doesn't appear to be a groundswell in the GOP-controlled Congress to reinstate the mass surveillance program.

The chairman of the House panel on homeland security, Texas Republican Michael McCaul, said the warehousing of phone records by the NSA "gave a lot of Americans a lot of heartburn."

A former prosecutor, McCaul said the data is still accessible when the government needs it.

"I don't see the USA Freedom Act being rescinded," he said.

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