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Cruz: "There is no stronger advocate of legal immigration"

John Pemble
Texas Senator Ted Cruz at the Iowa Ag Summit

This is the Q and A between Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and Texas Senator Ted Cruz at the Iowa Ag Summit March 7, 2015 in Des Moines.

R: Well, Senator, welcome. It's a little bit warmer than it was two weeks ago when you were here. Thanks for bringing the warm weather with you.
C: Well, I try to bring that up from Texas.
R: Why don't we get started?
C: Great.

R: How about we deal with the elephant in the room right away. A week ago you talked to Club for Growth, and you talked about that you’re opposed to ethanol subsidies. Those subsidies as you're aware were eliminated in 2011. Talk about that.
C: Well, look, my view on ethanol and biofuels... I support biofuels and ethanol. I think biofuels have a major role in the energy market, and they're going to continue to have a growing role. I also don't think, and you and I have talked about this a number of times before, I don't think Washington should be picking winners and losers. When it comes to energy, I think we should have an all of the above approach, but it should be driven by the market. Look I recognize that this is a gathering of a lot of folks who the answer you'd like me to give is, "I'm for the RFS, darn it." That'd be the easy thing to do. But, I'll tell you, people are pretty fed up I think with politicians that run around and tell one group one thing, tell another group another thing, and then they go to Washington and they don't do anything they said they would do. I think that's a big part of the reason we have the problems we have in Washington is there have been career politicians in both parties that aren't listening to the American people and that aren't doing what they said they would do.
R: As we think about that free market approach on biofuels and one of the challenges is, since the ethanol companies don't control the gas stations and oil does, if we didn't have the RFS wouldn't we be mandated to use oil? How do you have access to the marketplace in a free market unless you can access consumers? 
C: I think as you look at that question that was a far bigger challenge ten years ago than it is now. Ethanol is a major player in the industry. E-10 the refiners are used to it. The distribution system is there. The demand will continue without the federal mandate. If you do have... Look I understand the concern about market access, I think that's a fair concern. We have federal antitrust laws in place. If you have the refiners or the gas stations working with oil to cut off access, there are remedies in the federal antitrust laws to deal with that, if you're having market access blocked. But I think the right answer is to enable biofuels to keep innovating, to keep producing, and not have Washington dictating what's happening.

R: Okay. What's your perspective alongside that with wind? Texas is a large wind state, Iowa's number two or three. The wind tax credit expired the end of December.
C: Look, I think wind is terrific. As you know, Texas and Iowa are one and two in the country in wind production. But, once again, I don't think it should be the federal government dictating that. My view, when it comes to trying to get the federal government out of your lives -- trying to stop the EPA, trying to stop OSHA, trying to stop federal regulators from descending on your farms and making it harder for you to produce, for you to do your jobs -- you have no greater friend and ally than I am. But, when it comes in the energy business to anyone engaged in picking winners and losers...  And, listen, I put this more broadly to corporate welfare. I have been an outspoken opponent of corporate welfare. Now, listen, in Texas, we're the number one wind producer in the state that's not necessarily a popular position back home. I've been outspoken in allowing the export/import bank to expire. It's another example of corporate welfare where taxpayer dollars are benefiting giant corporations. I don't think we should be doing that. I think we need to be fiscally responsible. And, I have every bit of faith that businesses can continue to compete, can continue to do well without having to go on bended knee to Washington asking for subsidies, asking for special favors. I think that's how we got in this problem to begin with.

R: Moving on to the next subject: immigration. You live in a border state. You've been very outspoken on this and have views and opinions. Talk about a global immigration plan, and then also part two, as you know, immigrant labor is extremely important for agriculture and in particular on dairies, citrus, construction. And a stable immigrant workforce is critical, and the onus oftentimes today, or not oftentimes, is on employers to make sure that they're legal. And, the H-2A program, the E-verify, the complication with all that, how do you have... What's your perspective on how Washington deals with that, what makes sense, and how can agriculture be assured that they have a legal workforce?
C: Well look, how Washington deals with it is not complicated. It is a mess. It is not working. When it comes to immigration, I am both optimistic and pessimist, which may be a sign that I've been in Washington too long. I'm optimistic in the long term, and I'm pessimistic in the short term. In the long term the reason I'm optimistic, I think there's a lot of bipartisan agreement when it comes to immigration outside of Washington DC. I think outside of Washington DC there is overwhelming bipartisan agreement that, number one, we've got to finally get serious about securing the borders and stopping the problem of illegal immigration. I think, number two, there is substantial bipartisan agreement outside of Washington that we need to improve and streamline legal immigration, that we need to not just welcome but celebrate legal immigrants. I am the son of an immigrant, who came legally from Cuba. My dad 58 years ago had been imprisoned. He was tortured in Cuba. He came to America as an 18-year-old not speaking English with $100.00 sewn into his underwear. His first job was washing dishes making $.50 an hour.

Look, who we are as a people, every one of us, we are the children of those who risked everything for freedom. I think that's the basic DNA of what it means to be an American. So, in the Senate when the Gang of 8 bill was being debated, I opposed that. I helped lead the opposition of the Gang of 8 bill because it was a bad bill. It would've made the problem worse. It would've increased illegal immigration. It granted amnesty, and I think amnesty is wrong. But, there is no stronger advocate of legal immigration in the senate than I am. And indeed, I introduced several amendments in the judiciary committee including one amendment in particular to take legal immigration, to streamline and simplify it, to take the legal cap from 675,000 up to 1.35 million and to simplify it.

Look, right now the H-2A program is so cumbersome. It's incredibly difficult for you to deal with. We need to have a legal process that people can come here following the rule of law to work in farms and ranches, to work where we have need, and if we focused on the areas of bipartisan agreement, if we focused on securing the borders, and improving legal immigration, we could craft legislation that would sail through Congress. The problem is Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats have been focused instead on partisan politics instead of solving this problem. We see this with the president's illegal amnesty. There has been no one more vigorous in fighting President Obama's unconstitutional amnesty than I've been. It's worth noting that President Obama for the first two years of his administration had a Democratic House. He had a Democratic super majority in the senate. He could pass anything he wanted, and he did nothing, zero, on immigration. And so, in the short term, I'm not optimistic that with this president we're going to get anything done, but in the long term, with a president that's trying to solve the problem, I think we can fix our legal immigration system and we can finally secure the borders and protect this country.

R: One of the challenges agriculture faces is having access to markets when you have surpluses rather than relying on government subsidies. If you were president, would you expect to have trade promotion authority? What about the agreements going on today? Without asking a follow up, since you're not the first guy here, what about trading with Cuba? 
C: I am an emphatic advocate of free trade. I think free trade benefits America. In Texas we've got 2.2 million jobs that depend on international trade. The state of Iowa - you've got over $10 billion in exports. You've got nearly a half million jobs. One in every five jobs in the state depends on exports. I think we need to expand and open up markets. One of the ways for that matter, whether it is agricultural products, whether it is ethanol, opening up overseas markets, expands the ability of our farmers, our ranchers, our manufacturers to continue to do well and provide for their families. I emphatically support TPA. I support the TPP. I think we need to be opening markets everywhere.
R: Cuba?
C: Now, you asked about Cuba. I don't support it with regard to Cuba and there's a reason for that. You got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. The reason has to do with national security. Cuba is a communist dictatorship that is 90 miles off of our coast. The Castros have been brutal dictators. They are exporting terrorism throughout the hemisphere. They just recently were caught with a shipment of arms to North Korea going through the Panama Canal. This deal that President Obama cut, we've seen for six years a weakness and appeasement from the Obama/Clinton foreign policy. First, it was Russia, then it was Iran, then it was Cuba. What we have done by opening up trade... Cuban workers are paid $.08 of every dollar and unlike say China... A lot of people say, "Well, how come you're okay with trade with China?" Well, with China you can make direct investment. You can actually do business with the people. With Cuba every dollar that's spent in Cuba goes directly to the government. They keep $.92 of every dollar, and then they pay the Cuban workers in Cuban currency. As a result of what President Obama's doing in Cuba, it will directly prop up the Castros to threaten our national security. In my view, I will be thrilled to end the embargo, to open up trade with Cuba, once we see free elections and free speech, once we see freedom return to the nation of Cuba.

R: Modern Ag and biotech had an important role in feeding the poor around the world. Your views on biotech?
C: Look, I believe in science. Biotech is a great example of the wonders of science. It's interesting the radical left loves attacking people as anti-science when anyone dares question their computer models on global warming. They scream you're anti-science when someone points out for example in the last 17 years satellite data show there's been no warming whatsoever. The hardcore left loves ridiculing Christians, who believe scripture that says, "God created the Heaven and the Earth." They say, "That's anti-science to believe that an All Mighty God would do such a thing." But, when it comes to biotech, suddenly these same voices become the most anti-science zealots we've ever seen. Iowa's own Norman Borlaug, Noble Peace Laureate, saved over a billion lives through starting the green revolution. Now listen, it is important that our food be safe and the federal government has a very important role in ensuring that our food is safe, but I think we should be celebrating the innovations in science that have expanded the ability to produce food that have fed billions across the globe, that have made it easier for farms to produce to provide for your families. We need to stand up to the hysteria. Look, I would note, for families, for parents that don't want to feed their kids GMOs, in the private marketplace there has grown up an abundant market. You can go and purchase organic if you want to pay more. The market provides for that. People who decide that's what they want, they can pay for it already, but we shouldn't let anti-science zealotry shut down the ability to produce low-cost quality food for billions across the globe.

R: One of the challenges agriculture faces, and has during our lifetime, is nutrient runoff and improving and making a better environment. USDA has had a number of voluntary programs, and in Texas they're participated with in a large way the Conservation Reserve Program for highly erodible ground and fragile ground, filter strips wetland reserves, their voluntary programs. We recently had the EPA with Waters of the U.S. believe that they needed to do more in rule making and go beyond navigable waters and beyond. So, is there a role, one, assuming more government regulations isn’t something you like, but is there a role for the government and voluntary programs that help improve the environment like the USDA has or where do you come out on that?
C: Look, I think that actually presents a great contrast. I think conservation reserves, I think voluntary conservation, are terrific programs. It's the way the system ought to work. It benefits both farmers and it benefits the environment surrounding. I think the contrast of the EPA's effort to regulate Waters of the United States is directly contrary to law. I think it is terrible. I think it is dangerous. It's the EPA trying to turn irrigation ditches into lakes and rivers and oceans, and it is completely lawless. I was proud to join with a number of other senators in bringing together a coalition of 25 senators writing to the EPA saying, "Stop this lawless regulation." I got to say I particularly liked the Iowa Farm Bureau's phrase of, "Ditch The Rule," which I think highlights just how absurd it is that the EPA would be coming on your farm and exerting more and more government power.

I'd note, Bruce, look, this is the flip side. There are a lot of politicians who are going to come and tell you whatever you want to hear. They do that in every environment. You can go from one place, to another place, to another place and on the stump they sound great. Now, I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only person here who's been disappointed with politicians in Washington, who is tired of people blowing smoke. I'll tell a story. A few months ago, my wife Heidi and I were at the children's museum in Houston. We have two little girls, who are four and six, who I might note there's nothing they enjoy more than going to their grandparents - they have a small family farm in California. Next week they're going to go out there and ride on their grandfather's John Deere. The neighbors just had 13 baby lambs born. Our girls are thrilled about that. But, we took the girls to the children's museum and there was a police officer there. It was an African American man, huge guy about 6'6, 300 pounds, played offensive line at University of Texas. He walked up to me and he said, "I didn't vote for you, but I'll say this, you've done what you said you would do." When I tell you that I will fight with every breath in my body to stop the government regulations that is strangling farms and ranches, that is strangling small businesses, that is killing job growth... When I tell you I'll fight to stop the EPA from expanding Waters Of The United States, when I tell you that I'll fight to stop Obamacare or executive amnesty, then you know you can count on that. That I'm going to do what I said I would do, and I'm going to tell you the truth.

R: Clearly one of issues that you've identified is challenges around Obamacare. One of the issues, that we know, in rural Iowa is access to good healthcare. If you don't like Obamacare, how do we have access to good healthcare in rural Iowa?
C: Well, there're two pieces of that. There's what to do with Obamacare and then how to have healthcare reform, positive healthcare reform. Look, Obamacare is a train wreck. It is a disaster. It is the single biggest job killer in this country. One of the things I try to do back in Texas is I do lots of small business roundtables. We've done, we’ve done a couple dozen of them where we get 20, 30 small business owners around a table. And, inevitably the way I do it is we go around the table and I say, "Share an issue that's weighing on your heart. That you're thinking about, that you're praying about, that you're concerned about." We have never done a small business round table in Texas where at least half of the small business owners don't say Obamacare is the single biggest obstacle they're facing to job creation.

I remember one we did in Kerrville, Texas, a little town in the center of Texas. We were meeting in a restaurant bar. The owners of the restaurant bar described how they had a great opportunity to expand their business, double the size of their business. They thought from a business perspective it was terrific, and yet, they'd already turned it down because they had between 30 and 40 employees. If they expanded, it put them over 50 employees, which would subject them to Obamacare and drive them out of business. The first five people at that Kerrville roundtable, every one of them was in the same situation. They had between 30 and 40 employees. They had a business expansion opportunity, and they had turned it down. Now, multiply that over millions of small businesses. The people who are getting hurt there are not as much the business owners as the single moms waiting tables, as the teenage immigrants like my dad who would've gotten jobs as bus boys. I remember in that same roundtable there was a woman who owned several fast food restaurants. She described how she's forcibly reduced the hours of her employees to 28, 29 hours a week because of Obamacare. She said, "Listen, these are single moms. They've been with us five, ten years. They can't feed their kids on 28 hours a week."  But, she said, "You know what, they can't feed their kids if we go out of business either." 
R: What's the alternative answer to that? 
C: The alternative is two things. Number one, we need to repeal every word of Obamacare. Then number two, we need positive healthcare reform that expands choice, competition, and that empowers patients and dis-empowers government from getting between you and your doctor. Now, what does that mean? Three specific examples: Number one, we need to allow people to purchase insurance across state lines. That'll create a true 50 state national marketplace. If you want more access, the biggest barrier to access is cost. You want more access? You want more choices and lower cost. What does Obamacare do? It has fewer choices and higher costs. Number two, we need to expand health savings accounts, so people can save in a tax advantaged way to meet for their healthcare needs. And, number three, we need to de-link health insurance from employment, so that it's personal, it's portable, just like your car insurance, your life insurance it goes with you from job, to job, to job. We need to empower patients and keep the government bureaucrats out of the way between you and your doctor.

R: Well, Senator, thank you. Thank you for being here. We're out of time. I appreciate it.
C: Bruce, thank you very much.