Sen. Ted Cruz, fresh from his victory in the Iowa Republican caucuses, has done it again. He has told another whopper about his record on immigration.
Cruz loves to brag about defeating the “Rubio-Schumer amnesty plan.” He uses this phrase to remind Republican voters that in 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio—who’s now jockeying with Cruz for the GOP presidential nomination—sponsored legislation that would have offered undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. As Slate demonstrated in an exhaustive time line, Cruz’s story about his own role in the 2013 fight is bogus. But on Tuesday, at a town hall meeting in Windham, New Hampshire, Cruz embellished the tale.
Responding to a question from the audience, Cruz spent more than 10 minutes recounting his heroism in the amnesty fight and denouncing Rubio and Donald Trump. Cruz accused Rubio of betraying his campaign promises by sponsoring the bill. Meanwhile, Cruz accused Trump of skipping the 2013 fight and then posing in 2015 as an immigration hawk. Cruz urged the town hall attendees to ignore the candidates’ rhetoric and instead study the record. “Don’t listen to what we say now,” he said. “Look to what we did.”
That’s good advice. Let’s start with Cruz. Let’s examine what he did in 2013 and compare it with what he told the audience in Windham.
Cruz told the crowd, as he often does, that the 2013 fight was “the clarifying moment” between him and Rubio—“what Reagan would call a time for choosing.” Cruz accused Rubio of betraying his constituents and sponsoring the bill in order to provide “cheap labor” for big business and “drive down wages.” Cruz continued:
But I made a very different decision. I chose instead to stand shoulder to shoulder with Sen. Jeff Sessions … and lead the fight against amnesty. I chose to honor the commitments, the promises that I made to the men and women of Texas. And I’ll tell you the reason why: I wasn’t willing to go back to Texas and stand in a town hall and look the people who elected me in the eyes and say, “I broke my word to you.” That mattered more to me than the adulation, than the money, than the praise from the media, from the donors, from the Washington cartel. I remembered who I was working for, which is the people who elected me to fight for them.
That’s quite a speech. Unfortunately, none of it is true. As Slate documented in its previous investigation, Cruz didn’t lead the fight in 2013. He didn’t even take a clear position. But that’s not the whopper in the speech. The whopper is Cruz’s boast about his steely commitment to what he had promised his constituents in Texas.
In December 2012, a month after Cruz was elected to the Senate, his pollster conducted a survey in Texas. The survey asked Hispanic voters which of three solutions they preferred for dealing with undocumented immigrants: 1) “Grant them full amnesty, including path to U.S. Citizenship,” 2) “Give them work permits to allow them to work here legally but do not make them eligible for U.S. citizenship,” or 3) “No change in status for those currently here illegally.”
During the 2013 immigration fight, Cruz cited this poll as evidence that a plurality of Hispanics supported his position. But the option the plurality chose in the poll wasn’t “No change in status.” It was “Give them work permits.” In effect, Cruz was claiming work permits as his own position. Work permits weren’t citizenship, but they were a form of legalization, and they would have allowed companies to hire cheap labor and drive down wages—exactly the economic effects for which Cruz now condemns Rubio as a sellout.
So when Cruz brags about how he stood firm against “the donors” on behalf of “the promises that I made to the men and women of Texas,” maybe we should ask him why, after getting elected on a no-amnesty platform, he poll-tested the idea of work permits—and why he depicted the poll’s positive findings as support for his position.
And while we’re at it, maybe we should ask him something else: Are politicians responsible for the consequences of their legislation? Cruz’s position, as he presented it in New Hampshire, is that other candidates should be held accountable for every unforeseen or theoretical risk that arises from their proposals—but that Cruz himself, in submitting legislation, isn’t responsible even for consequences he advertises.
Cruz says Rubio’s immigration bill endangered national security. Cruz told the crowd in Windham: “The bill expanded President Obama’s ability to bring Syrian refugees to this country without mandating any meaningful background checks.” In reality, the bill said nothing about Syrian refugees. At the time it was being drafted, ISIS didn’t even exist in Syria. Factcheck.org says Cruz’s shtick about the bill, Obama, and the refugees is false.
What’s amazing is that Cruz, while blaming Rubio for failing to anticipate this bizarre chain of possibilities, completely excuses himself for what he, Cruz, touted as the certain effects of his own amendment to the bill. The story of the amendment is complicated, but here’s the short version: Cruz’s amendment would have barred undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens. At the time, Cruz told his colleagues that by adopting the amendment, they could gain Republican support for a “compromise” that would bring these immigrants “out of the shadows” and give them “legal status.”
Now that he’s running for president as an ultra-hawk, Cruz swears that this was all an act. He told the folks in Windham that he’s responsible only for the text of his amendment, which “didn’t say a word about legalization.” Cruz wants journalists and voters to ignore all the 2013 speeches and interviews in which he pitched the amendment as a path to legalization. Promises and consequences matter, unless you’re Ted Cruz.
Cruz isn’t the first politician to fudge his record. What’s exceptional about him is the religious piety with which he condemns others for sins that pale beside his own. “The test we ought to apply is the scriptural test: You shall know them by their fruits,” he preached in Windham. “Don’t listen to what any of us say. … Look to what we’ve done.” Perhaps Pastor Cruz should apply that sermon to himself.