Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul hit back at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the two Republicans' ongoing spat over national security.
Christie last week criticized Paul's opposition to warrantless federal surveillance programs, saying it harmed efforts to prevent terrorism. Paul told reporters after speaking at a fundraiser outside Nashville on Sunday that Christie's position hurts GOP chances in national elections, and that spending priorities of critics like the governor and Rep. Peter King of New York do more to harm national security.
"They're precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and their 'Gimme, gimme, gimme — give me all my Sandy money now.'" Paul said, referring to federal funding after the hurricane last year. "Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense."
King in a phone interview late Sunday called Paul's criticism of Sandy aid "indefensible."
"This was absolutely life or death money that was essential to New York and New Jersey," King said.
Christie, at a forum in Colorado on Thursday, pointed to a "strain of libertarianism" coursing through both parties as a "very dangerous thought" more than a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks. Christie was asked whether he was referring to Paul, a fellow potential Republican presidential candidate who has been at the forefront of the party's libertarian wing.
"You can name any number of people and he's one of them," said Christie. "These esoteric, intellectual debates — I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation. And they won't, because that's a much tougher conversation to have."
Paul on Sunday rejected arguments that the National Security Agency's collection of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone and Internet records are necessary to prevent terrorism.
"I don't mind spying on terrorists," he said. "I just don't like spying on all Americans."
Paul said the issue resonates particularly with young people, a key demographic Republicans need to attract in order to succeed in national elections.
"If you talk about some privacy issues like that, I think you will find youth coming to you," said Paul, who said his own decision on whether to run for president won't come until next year.
King called that argument misguided.
"When it comes to natural defense, we shouldn't be pandering to any demographic," he said. "We need to do what's best for the country."
Messages left with Christie's office late Sunday were not immediately returned.
As for the back-and-forth with Christie, Paul said he wasn't the one itching for a fight.
"I didn't start this one and I don't plan on starting things by criticizing other Republicans," he said. "But if they want to make me the target, they will get it back in spades."