Mitch McConnell says Rand Paul is the best man in America to be commander in chief. Yet he also says Rand Paul's signature national security policy puts America in danger.
Tension between those two facts—and between these two powerful Kentucky Republicans—came to a head this weekend, as key espionage provisions of the Patriot Act expired amid strident efforts by Paul to blockade the wishes of his own party and patron.
By Monday, both sides were seeking to play down the dispute—with McConnell reiterating his presidential endorsement and Paul dubbing it just a "difference of opinion." But whether the split is merely a "family squabble," as Paul ally Jesse Benton put it, or a more significant break in their long and complicated relationship won't be clear until the next time their bond is tested by a divide on the Senate floor or the 2016 campaign trail.
During the fight, McConnell warned that those—like Paul—who oppose extending the Patriot Act are putting the U.S. in danger of future terrorist attacks; he accused opponents of "disarming [the country] unilaterally as our enemies grow more sophisticated and aggressive."
Paul, meanwhile, criticized "a flaw in government" for the delay in taking up legislation (a decision made by McConnell, and even questioned by Speaker John Boehner and his staff). "People wonder why Congress is so unpopular? It's 'cause we go from deadline to deadline and then it's, 'Hurry up, we have no time to debate; you just pass it as is,' " Paul said.