Ted Cruz Didn’t Ever Support Legalization

As the field began to emerge for the Republican nomination, I had high hopes. This is all well before the official campaign announcements–before the speculations even. This was near the end of 2013, when I began to get a sense of who was gearing up to take a run at the nomination. There were the usual suspects: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal; you could see their candidacies coming from a mile away. Then there were the candidacies that seemed like a bit of a gamble: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. The rest of the field that eventually emerged was in many ways a surprise.

Over the months, I watched the candidates. I wanted to know not only their records, but who they were as people–insomuch as you can know any politician. I eventually landed on a select few: Cruz, Paul, Rubio, Fiorina. Cruz had emerged early as a favorite, but I certainly liked, and even admired the other candidates for various reasons. Carly Fiorina for her precision, and her relentless hits to Hillary; Rand Paul for his staunch defense of personal liberty; Marco Rubio for his optimism and passion. But it was Cruz who stuck with me. Out of all the candidates, he checked every single conservative box.

I officially landed on Cruz just prior to his announcement. I knew that at some point, despite all the fervor over various others, he would rise. I also knew that with his rise would come increasingly brutal attacks. Politics is a blood sport, after all. What I didn’t expect was for the attacks to be about his record on immigration reform. It was out of left field.

As Rubio, his surrogates, and the media at large ran with this story following the December 10th debate, I became deeply upset. Did my candidate, who appeared–for all intents and purposes–like a stand-up guy, con me? The evidence was pouring out like a busted fire hydrant; it was overwhelming. However, as I sifted through the torrent of information, much of it was easily dispatched. But there were two things that remained. A conversation Ted Cruz had in May of 2013 with Robert George, and the video from C-Span of him offering his amendments.

Cruz has done what any smart politician would do. Because we live in a sound bite culture, he can’t go into the minutia of the situation–and believe me, this series of events requires a depth of analysis most Americans simply don’t have the time for. He’s gone simple, and direct. It was a poison pill amendment, I am against amnesty, I am against legalization.

To my knowledge, Cruz hasn’t addressed the conversation with Robert George, but it preys on my mind. Maybe I’m an over-analyst, but I believe it needs to be properly understood. For my own sanity, as well as the sanity of all Cruz supporters who are like me, here are the charges, and my best shot at explaining them.

Sorry, this is going to be long, but worth it.

  1. Cruz is pro-legalization because he added an amendment to the Gang of Eight amnesty bill which would strip citizenship from it, but keep legalized status as an option.

Ted Cruz has said that this amendment was designed to expose the hypocrisy of the left. Cruz, as well as many others, believed the Democrats were using the Go8 bill to grant amnesty. Although the Democrats claimed the bill was about so much more than amnesty, Cruz didn’t believe it. To test their claim, he offered his amendment, which essentially said “Fine, we’ll give you every single thing you want, but not citizenship. Only legal status.” The Democrats crushed the amendment.

This revealed that citizenship was indeed the prime directive. Cruz succeeded. In a video from the senate, Cruz says:

“If this amendment is adopted to the current bill, the effect would be that those eleven million–under this current bill–would still be eligible for RPI status; they would still be eligible for legal status, and indeed under the terms of the bill, they would be eligible for LPR status as well, so that they are out of the shadows, which the proponents of this bill repeatedly point to as their principle objective…”

This quote tells you what Cruz’s intentions were with his amendment. He’s calling a bluff. If you need further proof that this amendment was designed to undermine the Democrats, note that Senator Jeff Sessions voted for the amendment. Jeff Sessions is as anti-amnesty/legalization as hell is hot. If that’s not enough, even Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) confirmed the amendment’s bluff status, telling The Washington Post:

“This was an attempt to kill the bill, and there was no doubt at the time that Senator Cruz knew it would do exactly that.”

During the video, Cruz also says:

“In my view, if this committee rejects this amendment, and I think everyone here views it as quite likely that this committee will choose to reject this amendment. In my view, that decision will make it much much more likely that this entire bill will fail in the House of Representatives. I don’t want immigration reform to fail. I want immigration reform to pass. And so I would urge people of good faith on both sides of the aisle, if the objective is to pass common-sense immigration reform that secures the borders, that improves legal immigration and that allows those here illegally to come out of the shadows, then we should look for areas of bipartisan agreement and compromise to come together…if this amendment were to pass, the chances of this bill passing into law would increase dramatically.”

Let’s translate. This is a very lawyerly passage. Cruz very carefully worded this, and to understand it properly, it must be parsed.

Cruz knows the committee will reject the amendment. He even said it. Given this, he also knows the bill in its entirety will fail the majority Republican House. Cruz wonders aloud why the Democrats would so sternly stick to citizenship if they know it won’t pass.

He then pivots. Notice how he says he wants “immigration reform” to pass. Immediately after saying the very specific words “amendment” and “bill” three times, he suddenly moves to the much more general term “immigration reform.” He didn’t say “I want this bill to pass.” That’s clearly deliberate.

Adding to this sentiment, he asks both Democrats and Republicans to work together to find common ground. He notes that common ground may include legalization, but he never endorses such a thing. He simply states that if the Democrats and Republicans truly want anything to happen, common ground must be found.

Cruz then calls the Democrats’ bluff again. He says that if his amendment were attached to the bill, it would much more likely pass the House. This reinforces the idea that once again, the Democrats are rejecting a fair compromise for a partisan reason, which is “citizenship or bust.”

In calling their bluff, Cruz had to be very specific in the way he worded his testimony. In doing so, and without considerate, contextual analysis, it comes across as supporting legalization.

Is this slick? Absolutely. Is it unethical? Not in my book.

  1. In Cruz’s interview with Robert George, he appears to endorse legalization.

Again, this is very dense, and requires extraordinary unpacking.

CRUZ: “…the biggest reason I’m pessimistic is, based on the behavior of the proponents of the Gang of Eight bill and of the White House, I don’t believe that the White House, that their goal is to pass an immigration bill. I think their goal is to have a political issue. The current bill…considered over a hundred amendments. Every Democrat voted straight party line to reject every single substantive amendment that would have improved the bill, that would have secured the border, that would have expanded legal immigration, that would have reached a compromise that could actually pass, and party line they voted one after the other after the other down. I believe what the White House wants is to pass this bill through the Senate, and they almost surely have the votes to pass it through the Senate, and then for this bill to crash and burn in the House. And I think the most divisive issue in this bill is a path to citizenship for those who are here illegally…

And what I believe is happening is that that citizenship provision is designed, and the White House knows it’s designed, to be a poison pill in the House, to torpedo the bill, because then they want to campaign in 2014 and 2016 and say, see those Republicans, they killed immigration reform. And I’ll point out this is not hypothetical; you go back to 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama played a key role with other Democrats in killing immigration reform then. I mean, there is a history of doing exactly this…

[My amendment is] an amendment to the underlying bill. The underlying bill from the Gang of Eight provides for legal status for those who are here illegally, it provides for them getting a temporary visa initially, and ultimately being able to get a green card, as a legal permanent resident. The amendment I introduced would not change any of that, which would mean the 11 million who are here illegally would all come out of the shadows, and be legalized under the Gang of Eight’s bill. It would simply provide that there are consequences for having come illegally, for not having followed the legal rules, for not having waited in line, and those consequences are that those individuals are not eligible for citizenship…

And so, a case I’ve tried to make, and I’ve tried to make to the advocacy groups that care, and care passionately about this issue, the only thing that will change the dynamic is if the stakeholders make clear to the White House, and to the congressional Democrats who are right now refusing to compromise, refusing to find common ground, that failure is not an option. I want to see commonsense immigration reform pass. But the only way to do so is to find a middle ground, and right now they’re unwilling to do so, and I think many of the Hispanic advocacy groups in particular are being played. They’re being played by partisans who want the deal to fail, because they want to use it as a campaign issue rather than to pass it. And I hope that strategy doesn’t work…

I believe, if the amendments I introduced were adopted, that the bill would pass. And my effort in introducing them was to find a solution that reflected common ground and that fixed the problem.”

That was a lot, but let’s break it down.

In the entire first paragraph, Cruz is saying that the total intent of the Go8 bill was to pass citizenship, and that every single amendment was shut down. He believed the Democrats wanted the bill to fail in the House, so they could use it as a weapon in future elections. He even mentions that it’s been done before.

Cruz then explains that the only thing his amendment would do is strip citizenship. Nothing else. Noting that even with that, it was ceremoniously rejected.

This is where context and sequence of language becomes greatly important.

After having said that the Democrats only care about one thing (citizenship), Cruz says he has made clear to constituents that if they want to break this dynamic, they must demand that failure is not an option for immigration reform. He never says failure cannot be an option for the bill itself, but immigration reform on the whole, because immediately after, Cruz says: “I want to see commonsense immigration reform pass.”

Cruz says once again that common ground must be found, never endorsing legalization, simply “common ground.” He then says that he doesn’t want partisans to use the bill as a device for elections. He says he hopes “that strategy doesn’t work.” He’s not saying he wants the bill to pass, he’s saying he doesn’t want the torpedoing of it to be used as a political strategy.

Lastly, Cruz says:

“…my effort in introducing them was to find a solution that reflected common ground and that fixed the problem.”

This is the stickiest sticking point for most people. But here’s what I think is going on. His effort was indeed intended to find common ground on multiple fronts (as he introduced multiple amendments), but also expose the left. To accomplish this, he had no choice but to leave legalization on the table.

He was juggling a lot here.

Had Cruz introduced an amendment to strip citizenship as well as legalization, he would not have exposed the Democrats, which wouldn’t have put the brakes on the momentum the bill was getting. Everyone admits Cruz was a major factor in effectively killing the bill.

By introducing his multiple amendments, he was indeed trying to make a crappy bill somewhat better, but he needed to leave bait for the Democrats, or else the whole trap, and thus the intended breaking of the bill, would fail. Cruz’s point in saying he wanted to find a “solution that reflected common ground and that fixed the problem” was to show that even with allegedly commonsense solutions, the Democrats balked. He was truly intent on finding solutions, he just knew they would be rejected. It was all a bit facetious. His amendment stripping citizenship, but leaving legalization on the table was not an endorsement of legalization; it was a trap.

This is a massively complex plan that had to be flawlessly executed. Cruz wanted the bill to be crushed, so he offered common ground amendments, one of which was stripping citizenship, but leaving in legalization. He knew the amendments wouldn’t pass, thus exposing the Democrats, and killing the bill.

Additionally, why would Cruz have put himself in such a difficult position with potential Republican voters when a poll from April, 2013, said: “79% of Republican likely voters would be less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported ‘legalization?'”

Unless the intent was to kill the bill, why would he have made it such a point to offer this amendment, potentially harming his presidential designs? He’s too intelligent to make a mistake like that. Had he wanted to look strong, but not tarnish his image, he could have simply spoken from the sidelines, offering no amendments, and voted against the bill when it came to the floor. But he didn’t. Because he’s a leader.

Cruz killed amnesty. He never endorsed legalization. It was a strategy. Could the slickness of this strategy hurt him? Possibly. But if it was the right thing to do, does it matter?