Recently United States Senator Ted Cruz traveled out to Orange County here in California where he delivered the keynote address to the annual Flag Day Dinner of the OC GOP. Just before the dinner I had the opportunity to sit down with Senator Cruz and conduct a wide-ranging interview on a number of issues. We chatted for nearly a half-hour, on issues ranging from immigrations reform, to gay marriage and more. The interview appears below.
Jon Fleischman (JF): Welcome to California, Senator Cruz.
Senator Ted Cruz (SC): Thank you.
JF: It’s great that you’re here in Orange County to headline the Annual Flag Day dinner for the Orange County Republican party. I know that there are a thousand people coming tonight to hear your remarks although by the time we publish this interview, they will have heard them!
I guess first and foremost, if I recall, you have some family here in California, don’t you?
SC: I do, my wife is from California.
JF: So what part of California is she from?
SC: She grew up on the Central Coast, up in San Luis Obispo. Her grandmother is up in Northern California in the Napa Valley, her brother’s in Southern California down in Riverside. She went to college at Claremont McKenna. So we spend quite a bit of time out here with my wife’s family.
JF: Well, I’ve notice that just about all of them live in wine country of one sort or another…
SC: Well, and it’s ironic, given that none of them drink [laugh]. But they do enjoy beautiful California countryside.
JF: Well, those are beautiful places. Let’s just jump right in. We’ve seen much in the news about our own government possessing mass quantities of data from Verizon. What are your opinions about this kind of reaching the personal data of Americans ostensibly to further the NSA’s ability to pursue threats of domestic terrorism?
SC: I think the initial reports are quite troubling. We need to find out exactly what the program entails and what the safeguards are. And so I think we need to be cautious not to rush to judgement. There is no doubt we need vigorous tools to target radical Islamic terrorists who have repeatedly murdered innocent Americans. But at the same time, it is not clear right now the extent to which the administration is intruding upon the privacy of law abiding Americans. Nor is it clear what safeguards exist to protect our constitutional rights. In my view, it is entirely possible to be vigorous going after terrorists and at the same time, to protect the constitutional rights of law abiding Americans, and that’s what I think we should be doing.
JF: So do you think that more information needs to be made available to policymakers such as yourself about what’s actually going on?
SC: Absolutely. And one of the things that’s dismaying is that most members of Congress are learning about this program from reports in the media. Because the administration has, by and large, not been briefing members of Congress. So as I sit here today, I don’t know the parameters of this program beyond the reports from this so-called whistleblower. And at this point, I don’t know if what he is alleging is true or not. But it seems to be there’s an important role for Congress to play in oversight, making sure that we have the tools that we need to protect Americans against terrorism and at the same time, that we don’t sweep innocent Americans into government oversighted intrusion of our constitutionally protected rights.
JF: I wanted to ask you about a couple of issues that are significant nationally but are particularly relevant here in California, which I know our readers are going to care about. Those issues happen to be immigration reform, of course, and also, the issue of gay marriage, which is big in California.
On immigration reform, we’re going to put into this interview when people see it, your recent floor speech that they can watch that you gave on the floor about twenty-one minutes. Great, great stuff on the Gang of Eight proposal. But for our readers who don’t want to take the time to push the play button, perhaps you could share some of your thoughts on it, maybe some of the components with which you take issue, and some of the things that you think maybe should be a plan that would pass. And I think also in your remarks, you focused a lot on the idea of what’s the point of passing something in this chamber that we know isn’t going to pass there.
SC: I think that’s exactly right. On immigration, I am both optimistic and pessimistic. I am optimistic because I think there is a great deal of bipartisan agreement on many aspects of immigration. In particular, there’s widespread bipartisan agreement that the current system we have is broken. That we need to get serious about securing the borders and stopping illegal immigration, and that we need to improve and streamline legal immigration so that we remain a nation that doesn’t just welcome, but that celebrates legal immigration. I think if Congress focused on legislation that embraced those principles – principles on which there is widespread bipartisan agreement – that legislation would sail through Congress. That’s how you actually get a bill passed — focusing on those areas of agreement.
The reason I’m pessimistic is based on their prior conduct, I don’t believe the Obama White House and the Senate Democrats who are pushing the Gang of Eight bill are trying to fix the immigration system. I think what they are instead looking for is a partisan issue to campaign on in 2014 and 2016. As it currently stands, the Gang of Eight bill is quite likely to pass the Senate. They have the votes in the Senate. But as it’s currently written, it will not pass the House. And in particular, the most divisive element of the Gang of Eight bill is a pathway to citizenship for those who are here illegally. Now, in my view, a pathway to citizenship is profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who followed the rules, who made it in line. But even if you don’t agree with me on that point, at a minimum, it is self evident that that is the most politically divisive element of this legislation. And what the Obama White House has said is if there is no path to citizenship, they’re willing to crater the entire bill. That is the essential requirement from their end. And by holding onto that partisan political objective, I think it is their intention to have the bill voted down in the House so nothing gets adopted so they can have a political issue in 2014 and in my judgement, that is cynical and political and very shortsighted.
In the judiciary committee, when we were considering immigration, I introduced five amendments designed to fix the bill. I would like to see common sense immigration reform passed. But to do so, we need to fix the problem so I introduced five amendments designed to do exactly that. The first amendment was an amendment to improve border security. This current bill is utterly toothless on border security.
JF: Yeah, well, some people are saying it’s actually there to give cover to some of your colleagues who want to be able to say, “We toughened the bill so we could support it.”
SC: Sadly, that dynamic is one that’s very real in the Senate. The amendment I introduced would triple the border control, would increase fourfold the helicopters and fixed wing assets, and technology on the border. It would put in place a strong biometric exit/entry system to fix the problem. Every Democrat voted party line against it in the judiciary committee.
I introduced two amendments to improve and expand legal immigration. And Jon, there is no more enthusiastic advocate of legal immigration in the US Senate than I am. As you know, I’m the son of an immigrant who came from Cuba with nothing. And that is our shared legacy; we are all the children of those who risked everything for freedom. One of my amendments would take H1B visas, temporary high skilled workers, and increase the cap on those visas fivefold from sixty-five thousand to three hundred and twenty-five thousand. The reason is simple. High skilled workers are pro-growth. They generate jobs. The data shows for every high skilled worker who comes in, it generates one point seven jobs for Americans here. Right now, every year, we educate tens of thousands of foreign students in our universities. They get graduate degrees in math, computer science, and engineering. And then we send them home to their countries where they start businesses, they create jobs, and they compete against us. It is utterly asinine.
Now, every year, Democrats come to California. They go to Silicon Valley and they say, “We are fighting to bring in more high skilled immigrants.” They say, “Write us checks because we’re fighting to address the major labor shortages there are right now in the high tech industry.” The Gang of Eight bill sensibly increases high skilled immigration from sixty-five thousand H1B visas to a hundred and ten thousand. The problem is it doesn’t go nearly enough. My amendment, which would increase it fivefold from sixty-five thousand to three hundred and twenty-five thousand, every single Democrat on the committee voted against it. And in my view, that vote was very clarified that when they’re in living rooms in Silicon Valley asking for campaign cash, they support more high skilled immigration. But when they’re voting in the bill, they voted against it and they explained why. In committee, what they said is, “This is the deal we have cut. The union bosses will not let us take it any higher than a hundred and ten thousand. So sorry, we can’t do it.”
Likewise, I had another amendment to double the existing statutory cap on legal immigration from 675,000 to 1.5 million. Once again, every Democrat on the committee voted party line against it and they said the same thing. “We cut a deal with the union bosses; we can’t increase it at all.” Part of my amendment would also eliminate the per country caps. Right now, the per country caps have an incredibly harmful impact in particular, on immigrants from Mexico, from China, from India. Every Democrat on the committee voted against that amendment to expand and improve legal immigration.
The final two amendments I introduced were an amendment to eliminate the path to citizenship. Now notably, under the underlying bill, the eleven million who are here illegally would be eligible for legal status for what’s called RPI status and then ultimately, for permanent legal residency. With my amendment, they would simply not be eligible for citizenship at the end of that path. Because in my view, there needs to be a consequence for breaking the law. Every Democrat on the committee voted against that bill. But New York Democrat, Chuck Schumer, his response to that amendment was, to my mind, the crystallizing moment of the entire debate. Because he said, “If there is no path to citizenship, there can be no reform.” And I actually thanked Senator Schumer for his candor because he made very clear he has an explicit partisan political objective and that objective matters more than everything else. If he cannot get one hundred percent of his partisan political objective, he’s willing to do nothing to secure the borders. He’s willing to do nothing to improve legal immigration. He’s willing to do nothing to increase high skilled legal immigration. He’s willing to do nothing to address farmers and ranchers who need workers for agriculture. And most revealing, he’s willing to do nothing for the eleven million who are here illegally. Because what he’s saying is if there’s no path to citizenship, he will take his marbles and go home and leave them not at a legal status but hiding in the shadows. I think that is a profoundly partisan, cynical, political position and it’s sadly the position of the Obama White House.
JF: So we’re going to have to see what the House comes up with and then hopefully, you’ll have some leverage on the folks in the other party and a few in our own.
SC: It all comes down to the House. The fifth and final amendment I introduced was an amendment to provide that those who are here illegally should not be eligible for means tested welfare. Now, interestingly enough, the Gang of Eight proponents go on television all the time and they say that none of the people being granted amnesty will be eligible for welfare. If that talking point were true, you would think they would’ve voted for this provision. Every Democrat in the committee voted against it. And here’s one of the critical reasons – and this is very relevant for California – every year, roughly seven hundred billion dollars is spent in means tested welfare from the federal government and roughly three hundred million dollars is spent at the State and local levels. The Gang of Eight bill, for a short period, provides that those given amnesty are not eligible for federal welfare but they would almost all immediately become eligible for State welfare, which in a State like California, is a very significant element.
JF: We are very generous here with tax dollars.
SC: And my view, we should be welcoming immigrants from around the world who are coming here seeking a better life, seeking the American dream. But you cannot welcome immigrants while at the same time maintaining a massive welfare state. It doesn’t work to do them both at the same time. And if this Gang of Eight bill passes, it is likely to have a very significant impact on the State budgets of states across the country because millions of new people would immediately become eligible for means tested welfare paid for by the hardworking State taxpayers.
JF: You are very passionate about that issue, which is good, so thank you for that. A few years ago here in California, the voters passed Proposition 8, which would place into law here defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. This issue has kind of been paralyzed in the courts. It’s up at the Supreme Court level right now. Since then, there’s been some public opinion polling in California that shows the state is more in the direction of supporting gay marriage. Where are you on this issue and where do you think the party should be on this issue?
SC: I support traditional marriage between one man and one woman. I do not think it is the role of the courts to be tearing down traditional marriage and in particular, the case before the US Supreme Court right now. I hope that the Supreme Court does not set aside the preferences of California voters who went to the polls and expressed their judgement as to what should be the marriage laws in the State of California. Now, it is perfectly normal in a fifty-state nation that the values and policy judgements in one state would differ from those in another. That’s part of the genius of federalism, that the citizens of California are going to make different decisions than the citizens of Texas or the citizens of New York or the citizens of Illinois or Florida or Vermont. And people can vote with their feet. They can choose to live in a state that most closely reflects their values. I don’t think the federal courts should be stripping away the rights of each of the fifty states to decide marriage laws for their citizens.
JF: All right, that’s two more questions and then we’re going to get you off to your adventure here. The farm bill. It recently came up in the Senate. You voted against it.
SC: I did.
JF: The Heritage Foundation has been kind of leading the charge against that, albeit with a group of other, lot of other conservative groups. Pretend you’re talking to a fifty-three-member California Congressional delegation – most of whom probably won’t want to listen to you – but there’s a group of Republicans in there. What would you tell them in terms of the reason why they should reject this farm bill?
SC: I think the farm bill that passed the Senate is a deeply flawed piece of legislation. It spends over a trillion dollars. It is a massive increase in spending from prior farm bills. Eighty percent of the bill has nothing to do with farming or agriculture. Eighty percent of the bill was focused on food stamps. And it memorializes into the law the incredible explosion in food stamps that has occurred under President Obama.
On the farming and agricultural side, I think agriculture is a critical foundation of our nation and we need to make sure we retain a strong and stable food supply. But the farm bill as currently structured provides significant subsidies not for struggling mom and pop farmers, but for giant agribusinesses, massive corporations. And a significant component of the farm bill consists of what is essentially corporate welfare.
On the food stamp side, the most pernicious aspect of the food stamps’ expansions in the farm bill is that they continue eliminating work requirements and statutory measures to help people get off of food stamps. One of the greatest public policy successes of recent decades was welfare reform in 1995 passed with the Republican Congress and Bill Clinton in the White House. And the reason it was such a success is welfare reform was tremendously successful helping people who have been dependent on government get off of that dependency, stand on their own feet, and provide for their own family. And that’s what every American wants to do. That’s what all of us want to do is to be self-sufficient and to stand on our own feet.
This food stamps bill does far too little to help people move in that direction and dependency is a cruel bondage. It saps self-respect, it saps self-reliance. It is not ultimately helping those it purports to help. If you ask anyone, “Do you want your grandkids dependent on government?” They will inevitably say, “Of course not.” And so I hope that the House of Representatives revises this farm bill significantly to reduce the corporate welfare and to reduce the out of control spending and to reform the food stamps program so that it works to help people get back on their feet rather than trapping them in dependency.
JF: I should probably explain to our readers that, you know, they connect these two disparate issues of farming subsidies and food stamps as a purely political measure to garner a majority of votes because, of course, urban State Democrats have no reason to vote for farm subsidies, especially for corporate farmers. And of course, Republican small farm states have no reason to support urban food stamps. Last question.
SC: And you’re exactly right. It is yet another manifestation of business as usual in Washington – cobbling something together to pass it but not protecting the best interest of Americans.
JF: Absolutely not. Last question. You recently gave a stem-winder of a floor speech critical of some of your Republican colleagues who are playing along with these procedural games. You basically said that there are some in your conference who want to be able to kind of vote conservatively but are very comfortable with liberal outcomes. Those weren’t your words, those were my words interpreting it. But I was wondering if you could expand on this just a little bit.
SC: The unfortunate truth of things is that it has been leaders in both parties who have gotten us into this mess. One of the biggest reasons Barack Obama was elected in 2008 is because Republicans failed to lead and Republicans failed to stand for principle. By 2006 or 2008, I don’t know a conservative across the country who didn’t feel guilty pulling the level and casting a vote. We are facing enormous fiscal and economic challenges. This country is at the edge of a precipice. In four and a half years, our national debt has gone from ten trillion dollars to nearly seventeen trillion dollars – larger than the size of our entire economy. Jon, if we don’t stop the path we’re on, we’re going to lose this great nation. And there is a sense of urgency among the American people that they understand that we cannot keep going down this path. We cannot keep going down the path, as the Obama administration has done, of disregarding the constitutional rights of American citizens. And we can’t keep going down the path of spending money we don’t have.
You know, it’s not even a terribly conservative principle to live within your means. It’s simple common sense. Don’t bankrupt the country, don’t bankrupt our kids and grandkids. And the frustration so many Americans have is with career politicians in both parties who have voted over and over again to dig the hole deeper to entrench themselves in power, to stay in office rather than showing the leadership that is needed to roll up their sleeves, fix the problem, stop bankrupting the country, and get back to the Constitution. That’s what I’m working every day to do. And I’ll say this just in closing. I’m incredibly optimistic. I’m optimistic both because we are starting to see Conservatives stand up and lead in Washington. There is a small group of principled Conservatives in the Senate who are standing together, who are suffering the slings and arrows for doing so, but are helping bring us back to free market principles and the Constitution. And I am optimistic and encouraged because there are millions of Americans standing up saying, “Enough already. We want our country back.” Every day we’re seeing people from all over the country sign up on our website, tedcruz.org, sign up on Facebook, joining us to speak out and restore the incredible free market principles that have made our country the freest and more prosperous nation on earth. And I believe that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to turn this country around and we’re going to ensure that we remain, going forward, that shining city on a hill that President Reagan so wonderfully described.
JF: And on that note, thank you very much for sitting down with me. And on behalf of Conservatives in California, keep up the good fight.
SC: It’s a real pleasure. Thank you, Jon Fleischman.
As referenced in the interview, below is Senator Cruz’s floor speech in opposition to the “Gang of 8” Immigration Reform proposal…