The Texas Senator was in Southern California this evening, and joined Hugh for a wide-ranging interview.
HH: I’ve got a chance now to talk to Senator Ted Cruz. Hello, Senator, how are you? Welcome to the Southland.
TC: Hugh, it’s great to be with you. It’s always a pleasure, always fun.
HH: Well, we’ve been talking about the new Stand With Hillary song. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance, yet, to absorb this epic of country music.
TC: I will confess I watched it on my phone and almost fell out of the chair laughing.
HH: (laughing) Now Senator, you actually like country. You wear boots. You do the whole deal. You’re a real Texan. Is that a real country song? Or is that a Washington D.C. inside the Beltway consultant’s version of a country song?
TC: You know, I would be surprised to Hillary get as much as 5% of the country music listening audience.
HH: Well Senator, on a serious note, I’ve got to cover a few things with you. I’m looking forward to seeing you later tonight. I know you’re dealing with L.A. traffic. The first thing is the immigration bill.
HH: And there’s a controversy brewing about what should be done. What is your advice to the House Republicans and to the Senate Republicans on what to do about the President’s, and you and I agree on the fact it’s an extra-unconstitutional action. What should they do?
TC: Right, well look, the simplest big picture principle, let me start with the principle and end up with specifics. The big picture principle is we had Republicans all across this country campaign on stopping President Obama’s amnesty. Senate candidates, House candidates said over and over again, if you elect us, we will stop this illegal amnesty. As the president rightly observed, his policies were on the ballot all over this country with a referendum on amnesty, and the American people overwhelmingly said we don’t want amnesty, and we especially don’t want unilateral, illegal and unconstitutional amnesty. And the President’s going it anyway. So the broad, philosophical point I’d made as the starting point is that Republicans in Congress, in both the House and Senate, should do what we told people we would do, should actually stand up and fight to stop President Obama’s amnesty. Now what that means is that we don’t just suffice with, as is the Washington way, sending a really stern letter and being done with it, or having just an empty show vote and being done with it. But we use the Constitutional checks and balances. We use the tools that the framers put in the Constitution to rein in an abusive executive. And there are two things in particular that I believe Congress should do. Number one, the incoming Senate majority leader should announce that not a single Obama nominee, executive or judicial, will be confirmed in the 114th Senate other than vital national security positions unless the President rescinds this illegal amnesty. That is a direct Constitutional authority given the Senate and meant to be a check on the executive, and the Senate should use that check to rein in the President’s abuse of power. Secondly, we should use the power of the purse. As you know, the framers considered that the most potent authority that Congress had to rein in the executive. We should fund the overwhelming majority of government. But with regard to the Department of Homeland Security, which is going to be charged with implementing this illegal amnesty, we should pass specific funding for DHS with a rider that says none of this money shall be spent carrying out illegal amnesty.
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HH: Senator Cruz, when we went to break, we were talking about your advice to the House and to the Senate. If, in fact, the President vetoes the bills that you have outlined, what would your response be, because there aren’t enough, A) the Senate wouldn’t even pass it. What would your advice be if the Senate wouldn’t take it up and pass it?
TC: Well, look, right now, in the month of December, I’ve said for a long time that I would support a short-term continuing resolution, simply to get to next year when we have a Republican majority. What’s critical is that we actually stand and fight and honor the promises we made. It seems to me where the House should start right now is pass funding for the vast majority of government, pass that in a clean bill that will in all likelihood be taken up by the Senate and signed into law, and then pass a short-term continuing resolution focused on the Department of Homeland Security, with an explicit rider prohibiting funding for the illegal amnesty. Now you’re right. Harry Reid right now, in the month of December, will no doubt try to strip that out. But you know, a dozen Democrats in the Senate have publicly criticized President Obama’s illegal amnesty. I think House Republicans ought to give the Senate Democrats an opportunity to make their views clear after the President has flouted the Constitution, put them on record, and if need be, we can take this fight to January and continue the fight, but make clear that the power of the purse has been used thousands of times by Congress. It is the central authority of Congress to enforce policy, and we should use that power, use that check and balance, against the President’s usurpation of Congressional authority.
HH: Now Senator Cruz, after the break, we’ll talk about the National Defense Authorization Act. But on that act and on immigration, I sense that the House Republicans are gun shy because of the shutdown of 2013. Are they fighting the last war instead of the next war with a majority coming in?
TC: Well look, I think there have always been a number of Republicans in Washington who are reluctant to stand and fight. And that is, that’s why people are frustrated. People are pulling their hair out looking for Republicans to do what they said they would do. It’s what I’m urging them to do every day, it’s what you’ve urged Republicans to do over and over again. And I think if we simply honor our commitments and stand and fight, that’s what the people expect of us, and that’s exactly what the mandate is from this last election.
HH: Now stand and fight, even if it does require at some point, I don’t think a shutdown in December would be a terrible thing. I don’t think anyone would actually notice. Do you agree with that?
TC: Well look, I don’t think we should have a shutdown. The people talking about a shutdown are Harry Reid and President Obama, because they like that idea politically. They’re the ones that forced the last shutdown. It’s the reason why the House should begin with funding the vast majority of the federal government, to then focus on fighting where the fight should be fought, which is specifically on amnesty.
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HH: Senator, coming up after the break, Amie Parnes is going to join me. She’s a reporter for the Hill, and she’s written a piece this morning about Hillary and the four candidates she most fears. She’s obviously been talking to Hillaryworld. And it’s Jeb, Senator Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Scott Walker. Are you upset that Hillary doesn’t think you’re one of the people she has to be afraid of?
TC: You know, I’ll still upset and traumatized by Hillary’s country music video. I really haven’t been able to get beyond that.
HH: (laughing) Okay. Do you think, by the way, I’ve been reading this brand new book by Richard Norton Smith about Nelson Rockefeller, and it’s a really amazing book. On His Own Terms, it’s called. It opens with a description of the Cow Palace in 1964, the split between the Goldwater and the Rockefeller Republicans. Does the modern Republican Party of 2014-16 have the same danger in it of splitting in the same way?
TC: Oh, look, there have always been divides in the Republican Party. There’s always been a debate in the Republican Party, what do we stand for. And there have been voices in Washington, for many, many decades, who have argued that essentially Republicans should stand for nothing, that we should simply be content to manage the decline of the republic rather than actually standing for conservative principles. You know, I’m reminded of a friend of mine some years back who suggested a bumper sticker – Republicans – We Waste Less. You know, that is not exactly a banner to march into battle on, and yet throughout the course of the history of the Republican Party, there have been those conservatives in the party who believe this isn’t just a team sport. It’s not a question to see whether the ruling party is wearing red sweaters or blue sweaters. But it is actually a contest of ideas. And the Republican Party matters only so long as we are standing for liberty, we are standing for free market principles, we are standing for defending America, and we’re standing for the Constitution. And unsurprisingly, I count myself very much in the latter camp. And I think the answer, the way Republicans win is standing for principle. You know, you look at prior elections, whenever the Republican Party has followed the advice of the Washington establishment, has run to the mushy middle and stood for very little, if nothing at all, we’ve lost. That is a losing electoral strategy. The way you win is the way Ronald Reagan won in 1980. You draw a line in the sand, you draw a clear distinction that this election matters to you and your children. It’s a fundamental choice. That’s the way we win, and that’s what politics should be all about.
HH: Let’s talk, then, about national defense. You mentioned it’s one of the key pillars of the Reagan coalition. The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House today. Democrats were on the floor, including their smartest ones – Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, denouncing Republicans for cutting the military’s pay benefits, adding a prescription co-pay, cutting their housing allowance during Christmas. We’ve walked into a trap. What happened here, Senator Cruz? What’s going to happen to the NDAA in the Senate?
TC: Well, I’m not sure what’s going to happen in the Senate. There are certainly Congressional leaders in both houses and both parties that are trying to jam this through. I have publicly come out against this bill. There are some good elements in it. There’s no doubt that we need a strong authorization for our Defense Department. But there are some real problems in it. There is the problem you highlighted of the cuts to benefits to our soldiers, and it seems to me our first responsibility should be standing up and supporting our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines. And there are a lot of other elements of this bill such as we discovered just this week a huge swathe of federal lands programs were added to the bill that had nothing to do with national defense, over 500 pages of legislation, restricting over a half million acres of land and limiting public access to them. I think that’s wrong, I think it’s an example of the Congressional pork and logrolling that is why Washington is broken. And so I’ve already publicly said I’m going to do what I can to stop this bill until it can focus on what it should be focused on, which is improving our ability to defend this nation and to protect our national security.
HH: Well, I hope people rally to that banner. I just think mistakes were made. And my friend and yours, Jim Inhofe and I, got into it on Monday. And I just don’t think they knew what the staff put in there. This land thing is new to me. I had no idea about that, because I’ve been focused on the pay and benefits cuts. But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it, Senator Cruz, that we’ve grown used to hundreds and hundreds of pages of legislation. The Homestead Act was 4,000 words. What’s gone wrong?
TC: Yeah, it’s, the biggest divide, I’m convinced, in this country, is not between Republicans and Democrats. The biggest divide is between career politicians in both parties and the American people. And there are far too many politicians in Washington who aren’t listening to the American people. You hear this over and over again. You hear it from Republicans, Democrats, independents, libertarians. What is wrong with them? They are not listening. Is something in the water there? And you know, we have an interesting opportunity for change. Two years ago, when I came into the Senate, the Republican freshmen met in Mitch McConnell’s office. There were only three of us. It was pretty pitiful. Two years ago was not a good Republican year. This year, once we win the seat in Louisiana on Saturday, and I think we’re going to win that seat on Saturday, there are going to be 12 new Republican freshmen. It is literally a quarter of the conference are freshmen. And I’ll tell you what I’ve urged every one of the freshmen is something very, very simple. It’s simply do what you said you would do. Remember one month ago when you were on the campaign trail, and you were asked a question, A, B or C, how would you have answered it to the voters one month ago? Just come to Washington and do exactly what you said you would do. If we have a quarter of the conference, the freshmen standing together saying we’re going to honor our commitment, it will change the Republican conference. It could be a very beneficial impact.
HH: Now you also mention the Constitution. I’m a big fan of Reince Priebus, because in the run up to the election, he put out principles that Republicans should run on, and he emphasized the Constitution word. He said talk about it all the time. People want to hear that you are faithful, and going to faithfully adhere to the Constitution. Do you think the Republicans heard that?
TC: I hope that we did. I think it is incredibly important. As you know, I’m the ranking member on the Constitution Subcommittee in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And over the last two years, we put out a whole series of reports detailing President Obama’s lawlessness, the incredible assault on rule of law, the latest manifestation of which is of course the President’s illegal executive amnesty. And I’ll tell you, as wrong-headed as amnesty is, and amnesty is wrong, it is unfair to millions of legal immigrants, it’s unfair to 92 million Americans who aren’t working, it’s unfair to the African-American community that’s facing historic unemployment. But as wrong as it is on substance, the greatest problem with what the President has done is it’s blatantly unconstitutional, and it’s asserting the power of the president to ignore the law and unilaterally change the law. And I’ll tell you, we’ve launched a national petition at www.stopobamasamnesty.com. www.stopobamasamnesty.com, where we lay out the Constitutional principles that Congress should follow fighting this amnesty. That’s www.stopobamasamnesty.com. And I think the Constitution should be the touchstone for every single thing we do.
HH: A last question, Senator Cruz, and I will see you later this evening, looking forward to it. I was very cheered when Orrin Hatch, your colleague, came out yesterday and said that he does not want to go back to the filibuster rules, in essence rewarding the Democrats will breaking them and putting them back so they can use them against a future Republican’s nominees for two years or so. What do you think about restoring the filibuster? You’ve already said on this program we shouldn’t be confirming any more judicial appointees if the President goes forward with this immigration amnesty. But what about the filibuster rules?
TC: Yeah, I agree with you. I would not have exercised the nuclear option if I were a Democrat. I didn’t agree with it at the time. I would have preserved the filibuster. But once the Democrats have done so, I don’t think it makes any sense for us to go back, because what will happen if we do that, is it becomes a one-way ratchet. It becomes, there’s a 60 vote threshold for confirming Republican nominees, and a 50 vote threshold for confirming Democratic nominees. And it doesn’t make any sense. The rules need to be the same for both parties. I think it was a mistake for Harry Reid to do, but once he did it, the rules should apply equally to both parties.
HH: And if Republicans adopt that, and then stand and block Democratic nominees for the court, even the Supreme Court, do you think that the public can be persuaded that what the Republicans are doing in the Senate is a good and just thing? We have less than a minute, Senator.
TC: Well, look, I think we need to explain it. And we need to explain we don’t want to block any nominee, but this is the Constitutional check and balance to rein in the President. You know, you asked what the public understood. A great thing to watch is Saturday Night Live’s opening skit a week ago that reprises Schoolhouse Rock, How A Bill Becomes A Law.
TC: It explains beautifully in just two minutes how illegal and unconstitutional what the President did. I think people understand that. And the framers knew well the dangers of an executive behaving like a monarch. And I think we need to use every Constitutional tool at our disposal to rein in the President and to defend the rule of law.
HH: Senator Ted Cruz, always a pleasure to talk with you.
End of interview.