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Ted Cruz on Renewable Fuel Standard, Education, and Refugees

Clay Masters
Iowa Public Radio
Ted Cruz stops at a Pizza Ranch in Newton to talk with Iowans.

A Quinnipiac poll last week shows Republican Presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz of Texas surging in Iowa and closing in on front-runner Donald Trump. Iowa Public Radio's All Things Considered Host Pat Blank caught a ride with him to Amana Sunday night after a campaign stop in Van Horne, and asked about some of the issues that are top of mind for Iowans two months out from the caucuses.

Pat Blank: You’re listening to Iowa Public Radio. I’m Pat Blank. And as we have been doing along the campaign trail, we’ve been catching up with Presidential candidates when we have the time and they have the time to spend a few minutes with us other than just a quick soundbite. And I am traveling with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz and thank you so much for allowing me to ride along with you for awhile this afternoon.

Senator Ted Cruz: Well, Pat, it’s great to be with you and thank you for joining us.

PB: So the big news is that Ted Cruz is on the rise. The Quinnipiac poll shows that you now are at 23%, just a couple behind the frontrunner, so what happened?

TC: Well, it’s very encouraging and it’s a trend that we’ve been seeing happening steadily over the last several months, which is that conservatives are uniting behind our campaign. You know I think, if you look historically at the Republican primary there have been two major lanes: there’s been a moderate lane and a conservative lane. And typically in past Republican primaries, there’s been one consensus moderate candidate, and all the money gets behind that candidate. And then on the Republican side, there tend to be a whole bunch-- on the conservative side, rather, there tend to be a whole bunch of us. Nobody has any money and we fight like cats and dogs. And as a result, typically in prior elections, the moderate goes on to win the nomination, and then they lose the general because millions of conservatives stay home all over the country. And one of the things I am most encouraged about is this election cycle that entire dynamic has reversed. This election cycle if you look at the moderates there are 4, 5, or 6 of them that are completely divided. They’ve got millions of dollars apiece, and I think they’re going to spend that money ripping each other apart. Right now the moderates are acting like the conservatives normally act. And then on the conservative side, something remarkable has happened. You look at the candidates who have dropped out of the race—Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal—all good men, good governors. All three were competing primarily in the conservative lane. You look at other candidates who were expected to be formidable in the conservative lane, they’re not getting meaningful traction. So what we’ve been seeing happening steadily is conservatives uniting behind our campaign and I think if that continues to happen, I believe that will put us on a path to win the nomination, and that is also the key to winning the general election is bringing back to the polls the millions of conservatives who stayed home in 2008 and 2012. We’ve got to give them a reason to come back.

PB: There’s still a lot of candidates on the Republican ticket, and how do you distinguish yourself and stay on top of the polls to make sure people realize who you are?

TC: You know, there are a lot of candidates, but I think we’re seeing the field winnow down in front of us. As I mentioned, we’ve had three Republicans drop out already. And if you look at the field nationally, there are only 4 Republicans who are in double digits, and everyone else is in low single digts. Everyone else is at 4% or below. As a practical matter, you’re seeing the field narrow down. The four candidates who are in double digits are Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio and myself. And, I think, you are seeing more and more as the candidates-- as the voters begin studying the records of each candidates, and as we get closer and closer to the caucuses, voters start taking more and more time, they go to a townhall like the one we just left, where they get a chance to look in the eyes of a candidate, to ask a question, to take the measure of the person, and they begin studying the records. And I think the more that happens, the more we will see what is happening here in Iowa, which is conservatives coalescing behind our campaign. And the reason is simple: I think people are tired of what I call “Campaign Conservatives,” which is people who talk a good game on the campaign trail. You know, on the debate stage, everyone says they’re a conservative, that’s what everyone always says. But I think voters recognize the difference between campaign conservatives and a consistent conservative, someone who has been the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If we’re going to win, we have to nominate a candidate who’s been a fiscal conservative, a social conservative and a national security conservative, all three legs of the proverbial conservative stool. And my record is markedly different from everyone else on that stage in that regard in being a consistent conservative who doesn’t just talk a good game on the trail but who has walked the walk and in particular has taken on Washington, not just Democrats, but leaders in my own party to stand and fight for the constitution and fight for the people and I think that’s why conservatives are everyday more and more consolidating bhind our campaign.

PB: Let’s talk a little bit about your experience, you have less than three years in the senate, no leadership experience as many of the others do as far as being a governor, so how do you take that to the White House and make that workable for you?

TC: Well, I very much agree with you that I’m not a career politician, and there are people in this race who have been in elected office since their twenties and their entire life has been as a politician. That’s not me. The first office I was ever elected to was the United States Senate three years ago. Prior to that, I had never been elected to nothing. Indeed I joked that the last thing I was elected to before that was student council. But that being said, unlike Barack Obama, I did not come to the U.S. Senate after being a community organizer. I had spent many, many years leading and fighting for the constitution and fighting for principles. In particular, I had spent five and a half years as the Solicitor General of Texas, which is the chief lawyer for the state of Texas, representing the state before the United States Supreme Court and all the state and federal appellate courts. And during my tenure as Solicitor General, over and over again Texas led the nation in fighting for conservative principles and winning. For example, we defended the 10 Commandments monument that stands on the state Capitol grounds. We went to the U.S. Supreme Court we won 5-4. We defended the Pledge of Allegiance, the words “One Nation, Under God,” we went to the U.S. Supreme Court we won unanimously. We defended the second amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. We went to the U.S. Supreme Court we won 5-4. And the biggest case in my tenure as Soliticor General, we stood up to the World Court and the United Nations and the President of the United States, who happened to be a Republican, George W. Bush, and we defended U.S. sovereignty. I argued this case twice in front of the United States Supreme Court. And the court ended up ruling entirely in our favor, concluding number one, that neither the World Court nor the United Nations have any authority whatsoever to bind the U.S. justice system, and number two, that no President of the United States, either Democrat or Republican, has the constitutional authority to give up U.S. sovereignty. That was the record I ran on when I ran for Senate. But in addition to that, I spent five years as a partner in one of the largest law firms in the nation where I led our U.S. Supreme Court practice and national appellate practice. And I represented major companies in company litigation, cases before the U.S. Supreme Court where we won over and over again. And I’ll tell you the case I’m most proud of during my time in private practice, was I represented over three million veterans, pro bono, for free, defending the Mojave Desert Veterans’ Memorial. This is a lone white Latin cross that was erected over 70 years ago to honor the men and women who gave their lives in World War I. The ACLU sued seeking to tear down that veterans’ memorial, the district court ordered the memorial torn down, the court of appeals ordered the memorial torn down. I represented over three million veterans before the U.S. Supreme Court defending that veterans’ memorial and we won 5-4 preserving it to honor the men and women who gave their lives for our nation.

PB: Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about education. We had a struggle in the legislative session here in Iowa this year over education. You have talked about taking the federal government out of education. Why do you feel so strongly about having the federal government step away from education?

TC: Let me say first of all that education is really foundational to opportunity for everyone. In my family education has opened doors. My mother comes from an Irish-Italian family, she was the first person in her family ever to go to college. My father fled Cuba after he was imprisoned and tortured fighting the revolution in Cuba, and when he came to America, he came to the University of Texas and it was education that gave him the opportunity to work with my mother to start a small business and work towards the American dream. So education is foundational to the miracle of this nation that has allowed so many millions of people with nothing to achieve anything. It is precisely because education is so important that I believe we need to get the federal government out of education. Education decisions should be made at the state level and the local level where parents and teachers have direct input on what’s being taught to their kids. If I’m elected President, I have pledged in the opening days of my administration that I will instruct the Federal Department of Education that Common Core ends today. And the reason is simple: we should not have a national curriculum decided by bureaucrats in Washington, the people in Iowa know what the children of Iowa should be taught and you have a much better sense of the values and mores and needs of the community. I’ll give you another example that shows just how disconnected Washington is from the men and women of this country. We’ve seen in recent weeks how the Federal Department of Education is trying to force a junior high to let a little boy shower with junior high girls. Now I gotta say, I’m the father of two daughters and that’s just nuts. My youngest daughter Catherine is 5, she understands the different between a boy and a girl. If a local Iowa school board issued an order saying that a junior high has to let a boy shower with the girls, the people of Iowa would throw them out on their rear-ends [snaps] in a New York Minute. The problem is when the decision is being made by some bureaucrat in the bowels of a building in Washington they’re not accountable to the people of Iowa or the people of Texas or anywhere else. They don’t care what the parents think and I think we need to bring those educational decisions back to the community level where parents have a direct say in what’s being taught to our kids.

PB: Senator Cruz one of the things that sets you apart from many of the other candidates is you’re not a big fan of the Renewable Fuel Standard. Ethanol is a big deal here in Iowa. What do you say to people who depend on ethanol for their living?

TC: Well, listen, I support ethanol, and I support biofuels. When it comes to energy policy I believe in all-of-the-above. I believe that god has blessed this country with enormous resources and we should be pursuing everything. We should be pursuing oil and gas and coal and wind and solar and nuclear and biofuels and ethanol and everything. But I don’t think we should have Washington picking winners and losers. When you have politicians putting in place a mandate, what it ends up doing is empowering those politicians. And so I believe we should phase out the ethanol mandate and I’ve introduced legislation to do that. Now, you know, I was recently, some months ago, I was at large agriculture summit here in Iowa and just about every Republican Presidential candidate came to it, and we were all asked the same question: What is your view on the ethanol mandate? And every other candidate, including a number who had previously come out against the ethanol mandate, did a 180 flip in the air [snaps] and boom suddenly they supported it. And my answer to them was the exactly the same as what I just told you right now. And to be honest when I said that I didn’t know if I’d get booed, I didn’t know if they’d throw tomatoes at me, I mean this was a thousand of the largest ethanol producers in the state. And what we said to folks then, I said, “Listen, I recognize that a lot of y’all here might prefer that I said I’m for the ethanol mandate forever and ever amen. But every one of us has seen politicians who tell one group one thing and another group another thing. And we know what happens. They go to Washington and they don’t do what they said.” And what I told folks there is, “With me you can count on two things. Number one, I’m going to tell you the truth. And number two, I’m going to do what I said I was going to do.” And the group at the summit burst into applause and when I left the stage I got a standing ovation from the largest producers of ethanol in the state, after saying we should phase it out. I think people are fed up with politicians who they can’t trust and when it comes to ethanol. Listen, ethanol is a mature product in the marketplace. There is a real demand for ethanol. It will continue to be demanded in the energy market without a federal government mandate. And I do think there is an important role for the federal government in helping expand market access. So if you look right now at how the EPA is putting in place the blend wall that is preventing refineries from increasing the ethanol content of fuel, I don’t think that makes any sense at all. And so when it comes to—and this is a point that I’ve made a number of times—when it comes to standing with the men and women of Iowa against the federal government making it harder for farmers and ranchers to produce their crops to succeed, there is no one who will fight harder. But at the same time, if we’re going to stand against all of the different subsidies, then it needs to be on a level playing field for everyone pursuing all of the above and that’s exactly what I intend to do.

PB: Governor Terry Branstad is one of about 30 governors nationwide who have said, “Okay, stop the process of bringing Syrian refugees into the state of Iowa.” Talk about what roles—should a governor be able to say, “Stop that process?”

TC: Well I salute the governor for standing up and taking that common sense position, and in my view, President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s proposal to bring tens of thousands Syrian Muslim refugees to America is utter lunacy. It makes no sense whatsoever. If we look at the refugees who are streaming into Europe, one study showed that 77% of those refugees were young men. That is a very unusual demographic profile for a refugee wave. We know that at least one of the terrorists who attacked Paris came in among those refugees and that ISIS intends to infiltrate those refugees and we also know that the head of the FBI told Congress that the Obama administration cannot vet these refugees to determine if they are terrorists. They said “We don’t have the information about who in Syrian is part of ISIS,” so he said, “I can query the database til the cows come home, there’s no information to check it against, we cannot vet these people.” Given that, it makes no sense to bring to this country refugees who we do not know if they are terrorists, particularly given that ISIS intends to wage jihad against America, to commit the same sort of horrific terror attacks we saw in Paris, they intend to commit those murders here in America. Now it was several months ago that I came out publically against President Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s plan to bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees to America. When I did, there was a fair amount of criticism by Democrats and by the media for my saying that, and I will say I have been very encouraged in recent weeks as you noted, over 30 governors, both Republicans and Democrats have come to agree with my position, and that is encouraging to see a bipartisan consensus. And the reason is it’s a common sense position. The first obligation of the President as Commander-in-Chief is to keep this country safe. And bringing in individuals who we do not know if they’re jihadist is not consistent with that. Now, let me note one other thing, it is entirely possible to protect this nation from terrorists and at the same time be compassionate to the plight of others. There is no doubt that we are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria—and in many ways that is the result of the failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy that has allowed the rise of radical Islamic terrorism that has allowed the rise of ISIS—but these refugees should be resettled in the Middle East in majority-Muslim countries. And I would note that America provides roughly 1.2 billion dollars to resettle these refugees, that is more than ten times what the next closest country provides. So when you hear elected Democrats that are suggesting that American people are somehow less than compassionate, I have to admit it gets me angry, because we are an incredibly compassionate country, giving over a billion dollars to care for these people, ten times more than any other country, and we do not need the President of the United States lecturing the American people that we are not compassionate simply because we want our president to keep this country safe.

PB: We always like to wrap up these interviews that we do with candidates by saying what are one or two or three words that come to your mind when you think about Iowa.

TC: Real, personal, down-to-earth, honest. The values of Iowa are extraordinary, I have to admit, I’ve really grown to love this state. I committed several months ago to doing the full Grassley, to going to 99 counties, you and I were talking about these three days, we’re going to be in 16 counties in Iowa, we’re going around the clock. And the support we’re seeing on the ground… We were at a Casey’s last night in Chariton at 11 o’ clock at night on a Saturday, had 80 people in a Casey’s at 11 o’ clock.  I mean it is extraordinary what we’re seeing. You know, there are some folks in Iowa that are talking about wanting to end Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status. I think that’s absolutely batty. If we began the political process in a big state, in New York or California or my home state of Texas, these elections would be decided almost entirely by slick Hollywood TV ads. The men and women of Iowa take politics very, very seriously. You know, I’ve joked that the men and women of Iowa, y’all treat politics the way we treat football in Texas, although actually you’re doing very well in football as well, so you’re taking both pretty darn seriously right now. All the men and women of Iowa who go to these town halls, there are literally millions of Americans counting on you, because most Texans are never going to get the chance to meet a Presidential candidate. The men and women of Iowa— you know there’s an old joke, “Are you voting for so-and-so for President?” “Oh no I couldn’t possibly, I’ve only met him five times.” That is an amazing thing to sit in a drugstore or a gas station or a restaurant or a living room and have the good people of this state look the candidates in the eye and determine are they telling the truth or are they blowing smoke. That is a service for the rest of the nation, and I have grown to really love this state, getting to know so many wonderful people here who have really good common sense values who believe in the Judeo-Christian values and the freemarket principles that built America and if we get back to Iowa values, we’ll turn this country around. That is how we restore this great nation.

PB: Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Thank you so much for letting me ride along and spend some time with you.

TC: Thank you so much and God Bless.

Pat Blank is the host of All Things Considered