GREENVILLE, South Carolina — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) unloaded on Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at a press conference before an event with House Benghazi Committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) here on Monday morning.
The criticisms Cruz leveled against Rubio—his most vicious and effective to date—come in the wake of a series of developments on the campaign trail nationally that find Rubio slipping behind Cruz, with the Floridian showing his hand that he’s worried about the Texan.
Cruz then referred to a New York Times article out late Sunday evening that detailed how Rubio is terrified of Cruz and has shifted his campaign tactics to try to take Cruz head on. Cruz laid out how a recent pro-Rubio ad from a nonprofit led by one of Rubio’s supporters falsely blames Cruz, and scores of other conservatives in Congress, for the Paris terrorist attacks. The ad berated Cruz for backing the USA Freedom Act, which ended bulk NSA collection of Americans’ data and more specifically focused such programs on threats to the country.
“You are right that Sen. Rubio’s Super PAC is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in launching nasty attacks directed at me,” Cruz told reporters when asked by one to respond to Rubio’s attacks on Cruz. He went on to say:
And I will say, in the world of politics, the fact that he is engaging in those attacks I suppose is a backhanded compliment. You know, I read recently in the New York Times about how the Rubio campaign is very, very concerned about the momentum our campaign has. They’re very, very concerned conservatives continue uniting behind our campaign, so they’re trying to do everything they can to prevent that by launching these attacks that are false. I will say, the attack ad they’re running, it’s fairly remarkable—it blames conservatives, such as me, such as Sen. Mike Lee, such as Sen. Tim Scott who voted for the USA Freedom Act along with me, it accuses the National Rifle Association which supported the USA Freedom Act—this attack ad claims that somehow all of these conservatives are responsible for the Paris terrorist attack. That’s just nonsense. It’s silliness and Sen. Rubio knows it’s silliness. He knows what he’s saying is false.
The ad from the pro-Rubio group to which Cruz is referring opens with footage of news anchors detailing the Islamic State terrorist attacks in Paris, then argues that Cruz teamed up with President Obama to weaken U.S. security infrastructure:
It’s an argument Rubio himself has echoed in recent interviews. The problem with Rubio’s and his allies’ argument, though, is that Cruz is hardly alone in his support of the USA Freedom Act that passed earlier this year.
Who else backed it? As Cruz noted, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Tim Scott (R-SC). Also, Trey Gowdy backed it. Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) backed it, as did Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), two establishment Republicans, backed it, as did Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mike Rounds (R-ND), David Vitter (R-LA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), James Lankford (R-OK), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) supported it, and so did two of the three U.S. Senators backing Rubio’s campaign: Steve Daines of Montana and Cory Gardner of Colorado.
“What did the USA Freedom Act do?” Cruz asked about the Act for which Rubio’s endorsers in Congress voted. Cruz said:
I’m very proud of leading the way along with other strong conservatives in passing the USA Freedom Act. What it did was two things: Number one, it ended the federal government’s bulk collection of metadata. We are not made safer by having the Obama administration have access to all of our phones and all of our emails. We are not made safer by having Lois Lerner have the information of law abiding citizens. That is not making us safer. The USA Freedom Act ended the bulk collection of phone and metadata of law abiding citizens but then secondly what it did is it strengthened the ability to target the terrorists. It strengthened the ability, when there is evidence that an individual is associated with terrorism, it strengthened the ability to be able to get their phone records, their emails, their location, get everything about them. Under the old system, there was a relatively limited universe of phone records that could be searched. The USA Freedom Act markedly expanded the universe of phone records that could be searched. That’s what the intelligence agencies told Congress—the USA Freedom Act strengthens their ability to target terrorists. They’re now able to search many more records instead of just doing it in a blanket way where they had every law abiding citizen’s phone records, instead [under this bill] they do it with judicial authorization targeted at the bad guys.
From there, Cruz proceeded to detail how Rubio is engaging in dishonest attacks. He said:
I’ll note this distinction—Sen. Rubio is arguing that the government needs to have all of our phone records and I assume by extension our emails and even our GPS location, to make us safer. That is not accurate. And it’s the same mistake the Obama administration makes with regard to gun control. Following San Bernardino, what President Obama and Hillary and the liberals say is we should take away the guns of law abiding citizens. What the Obama administration continues failing to do is distinguish between good guys and bad guys. We should protect the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens. You don’t stop the bad guys by taking away our guns—you stop the bad guys by using our guns. We are safer because we are a free and armed populous able to speak out and able to defend our homes and our families. And yet the Obama administration refuses to target the real terrorists and instead tries to undermine the rights of law abiding citizens.
At that point Cruz laid out how radical Islamic terrorists could have been stopped should the Obama administration have wanted to:
Let’s step back for a second. Let’s go back to Fort Hood a little over five years ago in my home state of Texas. In Fort Hood, the Obama administration knew that Nidal Hasan was communicating with Anwar Al-Awlaki, a known radical Islamic cleric. They knew that he asked Al-Awlaki about the permissibility of waging jihad against his fellow soldiers. And yet the Obama administration did nothing. They did nothing because of political correctness, because they were afraid to act. They did nothing and they allowed Nidal Hasan to murder 14 innocent souls at Fort Hood. Fast forward to the Boston Bombing, the Tsarnaev brothers. Again, we knew that they were affiliated with radical Islamic terrorists. The FBI went and interviewed them, but then they dropped the ball. They stopped monitoring them. The elder Tsarnaev brother posted on the Internet on YouTube a call to Jihad—the Obama administration didn’t notice that. They weren’t paying attention. We should have prevented the bombing of the Boston Marathon, we should have prevented the terrorist attack at Fort Hood—and you look at San Bernardino, these terrorists, we know now that the husband traveled to the Middle East. We know now that he’s had contact with multiple people on the terror watch list. We know that the wife posted on Facebook her allegiance to ISIS communicating with senior ISIS terrorists. And yet the Obama administration did nothing to prevent this terror attack and it’s because of a misguided focus. They’re not focused on radical Islamic terrorists. Obama will not use the words ‘radical Islamic terrorist.’ Hillary Clinton will not use the words ‘radical Islamic terrorist.’ Instead, they want to snoop into the phones and emails of law abiding citizens. They want to take the guns of law abiding citizens. It’s the wrong focus. We need a president who will protect the Constitutional rights of American citizens and that will devote every tool and resource of the United States military to defeating and destroying radical Islamic terrorism. As president, that’s exactly what I’ll do.
Moments later, when he took the stage with Scott and Gowdy here at Furman University for a town hall that Scott is leading, Cruz doubled and tripled down. Scott and Gowdy, who have interviewed many of the GOP presidential candidates for this type of a forum throughout the cycle, opened their line of questioning over the USA Freedom Act.
“Senator, after the disclosure of the bulk collection of metadata, certain reforms were debated and discussed, to the PATRIOT Act,” Gowdy said to Cruz. “What reforms were necessary, in your judgment?” Cruz replied, before rallying Gowdy and Scott to his defense:
Well, thank you for that question Trey. We’re debating more and more national security. As you know, a great many conservatives came together in Washington to pass legislation that’s called the USA Freedom Act. All three of us agreed on that legislation, all of three of us supported that legislation. What that legislation really did was two things—number one, it ended the federal government’s bulk collection of phone metadata of millions of law abiding citizens. There’s no reason on earth the federal government should have access to everyone in this room’s phone calls and emails and personal privacy.
Then Cruz dismantled Rubio again:
One of my colleagues running for president described on television recently these Fourth Amendment privacy concerns as ‘ideological silliness,’” Cruz said, quoting Rubio. “I don’t think protecting the Bill of Rights is ‘ideological silliness’—I think it’s the obligation of every elected official. But the other thing the USA Freedom Act did, and this is critical, is it strengthened the tools to go after the bad guys. The most consistent failure the Obama administration makes is they fail to distinguish between good guys and bad guys. We see this in crime policy, where they don’t go after the criminals but they try to take guns away from law-abiding citizens. We see this in foreign policy, where they treat our friends and allies especially the nation of Israel horribly, and they kiss up to and appease our enemies like Iran and Russia. So when it comes to dealing with terrorism, they want to seize—they want Lois Lerner to have everyone’s phones and emails in this room. But they don’t actually target the bad guys, so what the USA Freedom Act did is it strengthened the tools if you have someone who you reasonably believe is affiliated with terrorism we have tools to seize their emails, their phone calls to get in and monitor them and prevent acts of terror.
Again, a moment later with Scott and Gowdy still on stage, Cruz reiterated that “The three of us and strong conservatives in both the House and Senate came together to support” the USA Freedom Act.
At a press conference across town in his Greenville campaign office later in the day where he phone-banked, when asked about Rubio’s attacks, he quadrupled down in crushing Rubio—and then making the case that it’s proof positive he’s on the rise, while Rubio is slipping. Cruz said:
It is in a sense a backhanded compliment. You’re right that a Super PAC supporting Marco Rubio is spending about $200,000 with nasty, false attack ads. I read in the New York Times today that the Rubio campaign is very, very concerned. They see conservatives uniting behind our campaign. That has them very worried, and their conduct is demonstrating that the only way they can think of to try to slow that down is to throw a lot of mud and in particular to make false accusations. I left a town hall this morning where I was sitting with Sen. Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy—strong, principled conservatives that represent the great state of South Carolina—well I’ll tell you, Tim Scott, Trey Gowdy and I, we all voted the exact same way on the USA Freedom Act. So when Marco Rubio’s Super PAC alleges that voting for the USA Freedom Act makes you responsible for the terror attack in Paris, it’s a ludicrous allegation. Sen. Rubio knows it’s false, but as his campaign has been candid in saying, they are scared. They are scared by seeing conservatives come together, and they know to try to stop it is to spread things that they know are false. The USA Freedom Act made America safer, and number one it prevented the Obama government from violating the Constitutional rights of law abiding citizens, but number two it strengthened the ability of law enforcement to target terrorists. When you have a terrorist who is someone you know is involved with radical Islamic terrorists, we can now search more phones than we used to be able to. The intelligence community told Congress this enhances their ability to target the bad guys. And at the end of the day, in the last two weeks, we’ve been attacked by Sen. Rubio’s Super PAC. We’ve been attacked twice by Barack Obama. We’ve been attacked twice by Hillary Clinton. We’ve been attacked by the New York Times—a columnist on the New York Times said ‘Anybody but Cruz.’ And my reaction to all of that was thank you for the endorsement.