House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning defeat in the Virginia primaries last night had pundits and policy wonks signing the death certificate for immigration reform. But Cantor's loss — and David Brat's win — promises to add even more momentum to a different high-profile issue before Congress: NSA surveillance.
Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, has wildly different views on the NSA from his erstwhile opponent. Where Cantor voted against a landmark proposal to rein in the NSA — a measure that wound up getting defeated but by a much narrower margin than expected — Brat has argued that the government has abused its powers and "spun out of control." He's called for an end to the NSA's bulk collection of phone records and greater protections for e-mail.
Brat deftly navigates the political waters surrounding the NSA where other Republicans have made confusingly contradictory statements. Brat believes former NSA contractor Edward Snowden should stand trial for breaking the law — but also appreciates the value of what Snowden did, which for a majority of Americans puts him on the right side of the issue.
"It is crucial that we bring Snowden to justice under our system of laws," Brat told the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week, "as we require our justice system to account for its own institutional and constitutional failings."
As a Tea Party candidate, Brat's libertarian stance on surveillance is much more aligned with Rand Paul than, say, Mike Rogers. Although the House has already passed its version of an NSA reform package, Brat will likely become yet another vocal lawmaker on surveillance in the future — if he makes it past the general election, that is.