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Ad Attacks Cruz as ‘Weak’ on Defense

An ad from a conservative advocacy group attacks Sen. Ted Cruz as “weak” on defense, but makes several misleading claims to back up that assessment.

  • The ad claims “Cruz voted with Bernie Sanders against defense spending.” That’s misleading. Cruz and Sanders voted against a defense authorization bill for very different reasons. Moreover, the vote cited in the ad was on an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill.
  • The ad claims Cruz “proposed mass legalization of illegal immigrants.” Cruz offered an amendment to a Senate immigration bill to strip it of a path to citizenship — although it would have left open the possibility of legalization. But Cruz’s campaign says that was a political bluff to show that the real aim of the bill’s supporters was a path to citizenship.
  • Finally, the ad claims Cruz “even praised the traitor Edward Snowden.” In 2013, Cruz offered conditional praise of Snowden’s actions, but added that he was also open to Snowden being prosecuted if his actions broke the law. Cruz now says that based on more information he believes Snowden is a traitor who ought to be prosecuted.

According to Politico, American Future Fund, which advocates “a conservative and free market viewpoint,” has long been critical of Cruz’s foreign policy views. After spending heavily to defeat Cruz in the Iowa caucuses — which Cruz won — the group is now spending $1.5 million to air the commercial on broadcast and cable stations throughout South Carolina in the run-up to its Republican primary on Feb. 20.

On Defense Spending

The ad claims “Cruz voted with Bernie Sanders against defense spending.” As backup, the ad cites Cruz’s vote against the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014 on Dec. 19, 2013. The NDAA authorized about $552 billion in defense spending and $81 billion for overseas operations, and set pay increases for service members.

As the ad says, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also was among the 15 senators who voted against it. But the two senators voted against it for very different reasons.

Sanders said he opposed the bill because he was concerned about “waste, cost overruns and financial mismanagement” in the Defense Department.

Sanders, Dec. 19, 2013: I support a strong defense system for our country and a robust National Guard and Reserve that can meet our domestic and foreign challenges. At a time, however, when the country has a $17.2 trillion national debt and is struggling with huge unmet needs, it is unacceptable that the Defense Department continues to waste massive amounts of money.

Cruz said he voted against the bill as a protest vote because he was “deeply concerned that Congress still has not prohibited President Obama’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without trial or due process.”

Cruz, Dec. 19, 2013: The Constitution does not allow President Obama, or any President, to apprehend an American citizen, arrested on U.S. soil, and detain these citizens indefinitely without a trial. When I ran for office, I promised the people of Texas I would oppose any National Defense Authorization Act that did not explicitly prohibit the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens. Although this legislation does contain several positive provisions that I support, it does not ensure our most basic rights as American citizens are protected.

Cruz is referring to a provision in the NDAA for fiscal year 2012 that codified the president’s authority to subject anyone to indefinite military detention — including an American citizen — “who was a part of or substantially supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” In a signing statement, Obama wrote that he had no intention of doing that to any American citizens.

Obama, Dec. 31, 2011: I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation.

Nonetheless, Cruz supported the efforts of Sens. Mike Lee and Dianne Feinstein to add a provision to the NDAA for FY 2014 to make clear that the federal government does not have the authority to indefinitely detain Americans without charge or trial. Because that effort failed, the Cruz campaign said he simply could not vote for an NDAA that he felt was unconstitutional.

More important, though, it is a stretch to call Cruz’s vote against the 2013 NDAA a vote “against defense spending.” While the bill “authorized” spending, actual spending comes through appropriations bills. (See this article on “The Difference Between Authorization and Appropriation.”) There was no defense appropriation bill that year, and all government funding was wrapped into a continuing resolution, which Cruz opposed. But that was not an up-or-down vote on defense spending. However, on Nov. 5, 2015, Cruz voted for the latest Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which passed 51-44.

Interestingly, Cruz also voted on March 26, 2015, for a budget amendment offered by Sen. Marco Rubio that would have increased the defense budget in fiscal year 2016. The Pentagon requested $661 billion, and Rubio said his amendment would “fully fund” the department. The measure failed 32-68. Last month, a super PAC supporting then-presidential candidate Rand Paul criticized Cruz for voting to increase the defense budget without proposing to offset the cost with cuts elsewhere.

‘Mass Legalization of Illegal Immigrants’?

The ad further claims that Cruz “proposed mass legalization of illegal immigrants.” We’ve written about this claim extensively, as it has come up in several Republican debates in exchanges between Rubio and Cruz.

In 2013, Cruz offered an amendment to a Senate “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that would have stripped out a proposal for a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. But Cruz’s amendment would have purposefully left intact the bill’s provisions to provide legal status for them. Numerous media outlets described Cruz’s plan as a compromise “middle road” in the immigration debate that he hoped might be palatable to enough legislators in both houses of Congress to actually pass.

Cruz publicly opposed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because it provided a “path to citizenship” for those then in the country illegally. Cruz labeled it an “amnesty” bill.

Although Cruz made numerous statements at the time in support of his amendment, Cruz’s campaign told us the amendment was a ploy to expose the real motivations of the bill’s supporters. While those supporters claimed the bill’s aim was to allow 11 million immigrants in the country illegally to come out of the shadows, the Cruz campaign says the senator was convinced the actual intent was to provide citizenship to those immigrants so they could become future voters. So, the campaign says, Cruz offered the amendment, knowing it would not pass, to show the real priority of supporters.

During a Republican debate in December, Cruz said flatly, “I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.”

As we said when we first wrote about the issue in December, we’ll leave it up to readers to decide if Cruz once supported legalization as a political compromise, and now disavows it, or if he was merely employing a legislative ploy to expose the motivations of his opponents.

Praise for Snowden

Finally, the ad claims Cruz “even praised the traitor Edward Snowden,” a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked to the media extensive Internet and phone surveillance by U.S. intelligence.

The ad cites comments Cruz made during an event hosted by TheBlaze in June 2013. According to a story in TheBlaze, Cruz said, “If it is the case that the federal government is seizing millions of personal records about law-abiding citizens, and if it is the case that there are minimal restrictions on accessing or reviewing those records, then I think Mr. Snowden has done a considerable public service by bringing it to light.”

The article goes on to say that Cruz also left open the possibility of backing prosecution for Snowden.

“If Mr. Snowden has violated the laws of this country, there are consequences to violating laws and that is something he has publicly stated he understands and I think the law needs to be enforced,” Cruz said.

During an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Rubio seized on the first comment, and said, “We cannot afford to have a commander-in-chief who thinks people like Edward Snowden are doing a good public service.”

The Cruz campaign told us that the context of Cruz’s comments at the time were “conditional,” as he prefaced his comments with the disclaimer “if it is the case that”.

After Rubio raised the issue, the New York Times asked the Cruz campaign where Cruz stood now on Snowden. “​It is now clear that Snowden is a traitor, and he should be tried for treason,” Cruz said in a released statement.

Cruz reminded the Times that in his comments in 2013, he also said Snowden should be prosecuted if he broke any laws. “Today, we know that Snowden violated federal law, that his actions materially aided terrorists and enemies of the United States, and that he subsequently fled to China and Russia,” he said. “Under the Constitution, giving aid to our enemies is treason.”