The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bush credits Obama for continuing NSA’s metadata program

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush delivers a speech during the annual meeting of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in Columbus, on April 14. (Jonathan Quilter/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)
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This item has been updated and corrected.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a radio interview on Tuesday that he supports President Obama's decision to continue the National Security Agency's metadata collection program.

The presumed presidential candidate appeared on "The Michael Medved Show," a nationally-syndicated radio program, while visiting Seattle for a fundraiser for his PAC, Right to Rise.

Asked by Medved what he thinks is the biggest accomplishment of the Obama administration, Bush gave the president credit for sticking with the NSA's bulk collection of phone call times and other "metadata," a move that he said has led to the agency "being enhanced."

"Advancing this -- even though he never defends it, even though he never openly admits it -- there has been a continuation of a very important service, which is the first obligation I think of our national government, is to keep us safe," he said. "And the technologies that now can be applied to make that so, while protecting civil liberties, are there. He's not abandoned them even though there was some indication that he might."

Revelations about the NSA's daily gathering of metadata stirred controversy when it was revealed in June 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Public outcry prompted Obama in January 2014 to call for an end to the NSA’s storage of the data. He also appealed to Congress to find a way to preserve the agency’s access to the data for counter-terrorism information.

Authority for the metadata program is set to expire on June 1 and so far, Congress has made little progress in determining whether to reauthorize the program and possibly set limits on its scope.

Bush has voiced support for Obama's handling of the NSA program before during campaign-style appearances across the country, while also faulting him for not defending the program or explaining to Americans why it's needed despite concerns about civil liberties.

Bush's position on the metadata program puts him at odds most notably with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an announced presidential candidate who is a strong critic of the NSA program and has said he would abolish it if he were elected president.

In the interview, Medved suggested that Democrats charge that Republicans widely oppose Obama because of racism. Bush said he disagrees with Democrats and that Republicans instead take issue with Obama because of "Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, a tepid economic recovery, declining median income in the sixth year of a recover. This is a deeply pessimistic time and the president's overreach has really been the cause, and I think people realize that."

Bush also rebuffed suggestions by Hillary Rodham Clinton that Republicans who appeared at a summit in New Hampshire over the weekend focused only on her, instead of presenting their own policy ideas.

"I didn't mention her name," he said.

This item has been updated to reflect Medved's suggestion that Democrats believe Republicans oppose Obama because of racism.