Ted Cruz is being honest about his position on the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill in 2013.
He opposed the bill, and he introduced an amendment to allow illegal aliens to gain legal status as long as they never became citizens with the right to vote. He did so to show that Democrats were more interested in new votes than in helping illegal aliens. He also did so to show there were conditions under which conservatives would accept immigration reform.
That is the story Cruz is telling, and that is exactly how it happened.
But Bret Baier of Fox News’ Special Report and his co-panelists seemed to agree Wednesday that Cruz was dodging questions about his amendment, and Marco Rubio’s supporters accuse Cruz of lying about past support for allowing illegal aliens to gain legal status.
In fact, Cruz is 100% right about what he supported and why he supported it, as a brief trip through history suffices to show.
The tale actually starts with Rush Limbaugh.
In November 2012, in the wake of Mitt Romney’s crushing loss to Barack Obama, the wiser heads in the conservative movement declared that the Republican Party had better pass immigration reform right away–call it “amnesty,” whatever— if it ever hoped to contest a presidential election again. (Never mind the fact that Romney would still have lost even if he had won a majority of the Latino vote.)
Limbaugh, among others, pointed out that the real reason Democrats wanted to pass amnesty was to gain millions of loyal new voters. He offered a rhetorical challenge (similar to his offer in 2009 to split the stimulus with Obama): “I, El Rushbo, I will lead the charge for amnesty. I will lead the charge, instant legalization, instant citizenship of everybody who is here at the moment illegally, with one proviso: None of them could vote for 25 years.”
Limbaugh repeated the idea several times in the subsequent months as the debate over the Gang of Eight bill heated up.
In that spirit, Cruz offered an amendment that gave legislative form to Limbaugh’s rhetorical experiment. He would support the Gang of Eight bill as long as those who had entered or stayed in the country illegally could not become citizens, i.e. voters. This was not so much a “poison pill” to kill the legislation, as a show of its true purpose.
The Rubio camp is trying to portray Cruz’s gesture as a kind of flip-flop, and is casting his recollection of events as evidence of his dishonesty.
That, in itself, is dishonest. It is of a piece with Rubio’s attempts to portray Cruz’s votes against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a kind of isolationism or as evidence that he is anti-Israel (since the NDAA funded the Iron Dome system).
Such claims are absurd, and beneath Rubio’s character.
It is certainly true that Cruz took great pains in 2013 to say that he wanted immigration reform to pass. But context is critical. Conservatives who opposed the Gang of Eight bill were being cast as bigots, racists, nativists, and so on. Cruz and others argued that they were in favor of immigration reform in theory–but not a bill that granted legal status before the border was secure, so that the failure of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act would not be repeated.
So Cruz is telling the truth. But suppose–for argument’s sake–that he were not.
The fact is that Rubio chose to be the pitchman for the Gang of Eight bill. His intentions may have been honorable, but his judgment was poor. He was swindled by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Obama rewarded Rubio’s cooperation by attacking him on climate change.
Nothing Cruz did, or says about what he did, erases that. Rubio’s attack will backfire. He should move on.