Updated at 8:02 p.m. ET on 7/28
(CNN) - Sen. Rand Paul’s criticism of the National Security Agency’s spying programs puts him in the same category as the late George McGovern, the anti-war 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, Rep. Peter King, R-New York, said Sunday.
Echoing remarks last week from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, King sharply chastised Paul for suggesting admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden was performing an act of civil disobedience when he revealed the massive snooping programs.
“When you have Rand Paul actually comparing Snowden to Martin Luther King or Henry David Thoreau, this is madness,” King said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This is the anti-war, left-wing Democrats of the 1960s that nominated George McGovern and destroyed their party for almost 20 years. I don't want that happening to our party.”
Paul, in an interview on Fox News in June, compared the jail sentences served by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thoreau for civil disobedience to the potentially long prison term Snowden could face.
“I tend to agree with his position on deciding when you decide to become a civil disobedient,” Paul told Fox on June 17. “You know, we had famous ones in our career. Some of them only had to serve, like Thoreau served only one day in jail. Martin Luther King served 30 days in jail. (Snowden) may be looking at life in prison. So, there's a question.”
Both Paul, and more recently Peter King, have said they're exploring a bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
King argued that while a debate over the NSA programs could be useful, attempts to defund them were dangerous. The House of Representatives narrowly rejected a measure last week that would have stripped funding from a phone monitoring program.
“I thought it was absolutely disgraceful that so many Republicans voted to defund the NSA program, which has done so much to protect our country,” King told chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. “This is an isolationist streak that's in our party. It goes totally against the party of Eisenhower, and Reagan, Bush. I mean, we are a party of national defense. We're a party who did so much to protect the country over the last 12 years.”
Last week, Christie slammed libertarian-minded Republicans who have questioned the NSA spying programs, including Paul. Speaking on a panel for Republican governors, Christie urged caution when discussing ways to revamp U.S. security.
And he argued that those opposed to the government spying programs should talk first to families of loved ones who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"These esoteric, intellectual debates - I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and orphans and have that conversation," Christie said. "And they won't. That's a lot tougher conversation to have."
Responding to King's comments Sunday, a senior adviser to Paul wrote the Kentucky Republican "believes national defense is the most important job of the federal government."
"Senator Paul wants to come home from nation building sooner so we have more money for the actual defense of our country," Doug Stafford continued. "Peter King wants to build bridges in Afghanistan instead of at home. He wants us endlessly patrolling the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan instead of ours at home."