Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on the Deficit, Gun Rights, Legal Immigration

As part of our series of conversations with new members of Congress, Judy Woodruff talks to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Son of a Cuban immigrant, Cruz discusses his opposition to certain immigration reform policies, his reaction to the Newtown shootings and his views on the fight in Washington over spending and the deficit.

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    And to another in our conversations with newly elected members of the U.S. Senate.

    Texas Republican Ted Cruz previously served as the state's solicitor general, and also worked in the George W. Bush administration. The 42-year-old Cruz defeated his Democratic challenger by a wide margin in the November election, with strong support from the Tea Party. He took the seat of Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, who retired.

    Over the weekend, Cruz said he would find it very difficult to support Chuck Hagel for defense secretary. Cruz charged that the former Nebraska senator had — quote — "advocated weakness" in his foreign policy views.

    I spoke with him last Friday from Capitol Hill.

    Welcome, Sen. Ted Cruz. And congratulations.

    Let's start out talking about Washington. Most Americans seem to think this city is dysfunctional. They have a very low opinion of the Congress. What do you think the problem is? What would you do about it?

  • SEN. TED CRUZ, R-Tex.:

    Well, I think right now, we have got a major problem that we're just — we're going broke. We are spending money we don't have.

    And there is a real lack of common sense in the Capitol. You have had career politicians from both parties who have been in power a long time. And they continue to spend and spend and spend money we don't have.


    Now, you have said that you would have voted against the fiscal cliff bill that came through the Senate a few days ago. But your — the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was in favor of it. He helped put it together. Most Republicans in the Senate, including your fellow Texan, John Cornyn, voted for it.


    Well, I would have voted against it because I think it was a lousy deal. It had two parts. Number one, it raised taxes by $620 billion. That's going to kill jobs. It's going to hurt small businesses. It's going to hurt every American.

    But, number two, it combined those tax increases, not with spending cuts, which is what President Obama campaigned on every day, but instead with spending increases, $330 billion in additional new spending.

    That just made the problem worse. It wasn't a serious response to the grave fiscal and economic problems facing this country.


    I remember reading your father said that you weren't coming to Washington to compromise. Are you saying compromise is a bad thing in our system of government?


    Well, no, not at all.

    And, in fact, my view on compromise is exactly Ronald Reagan's view. President Reagan said, what do you do if they offer you half-a-loaf? Answer, you take it. And then you come back for more. I am very, very happy to compromise, to work with anybody, Democrats, independents, libertarians.

    I have joked I will work with Martians, if they're willing to cut spending, to tackle the debt, to have fundamental tax reform, to have regulatory reform and pro-growth policies.

    We have got to fix these problems. You know, I think most Americans are not interested in the political battles that happen here in the Capitol. They're interested in commonsense solutions that pull us back from this crushing debt and that get our economy growing and jobs thriving again.


    You have also said, Sen. Cruz, that you are prepared to use the debt ceiling vote as a bargaining tool. But some look at that and they say, you could be risking the downgrading of U.S. government debt, U.S. government bonds again.


    You fast-forward to the debt ceiling. I think that's the mirror image of the fiscal cliff, because the default, if nothing happens, is that the debt ceiling is not raised.

    And what that means — it doesn't mean, as some who would demagogue this issue suggest, it doesn't mean a default on our debt. What not raising the debt ceiling would mean is a partial government shutdown. Roughly, 40 cents of every dollar the federal government spends is borrowed. If you don't raise the debt ceiling, that 40 cents is temporarily stopped.

    Now, we did that in 1995. We didn't default on our debt.




    And the result was balanced budgets, and some of the greatest fiscal responsibility we have seen in modern times from Congress, because fiscal conservatives stood together and said, we need to be responsible.


    Let me ask you about a couple of other issues.

    And one is guns. You're a longtime proponent of gun rights. But you're also the father of two young girls ages 4 and 2. And after those terrible shootings at that elementary school in Connecticut, have you changed your views at all on how available guns should be, especially the high-capacity weapons?


    Well, I think every parent was horrified at what happened in Newtown, Conn.

    To see 20 young children and six adults senselessly murdered in an elementary school, it's just shocking beyond words. But I think it was also sad that, within almost minutes of that tragedy, politicians began exploiting that horrible crime to push their gun control agenda.

    I do not support that agenda. In fact, I intend to help lead the fight to stop Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bill to pass aggressive gun control, and in particular to pass a national firearms registry. I don't think the federal government has any business keeping a list of law-abiding Americans who exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.


    So, you think that assault weapons, high-capacity guns should continue to be easily available?


    What I think is two things, number one, that restricting the right to keep and bear arms is unconstitutional.

    The Second Amendment is an integral part of the Bill of Rights. And what it means is, politicians cannot come and strip the guns from law-abiding Americans. But, number two, it's misguided policy. If you look at the jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws, almost without exception, they have the highest crime rates and the highest murder rates.

    If you look at the jurisdictions that most vigorously protect our right to keep and bear arms, almost without exception, they have the lowest crime rates and the lowest murder rates. Gun control policies don't work. And they're contrary to the Constitution.


    And, Senator, finally, a question about immigration.

    You're the son of a Cuban immigrant. You have also said that you do not believe that there should be a path to citizenship for people who are now in the United States illegally. What do you think should be done with those individuals?


    Well, I think immigration, unfortunately, is an issue both parties are demagoguing on right now. Neither is serious about solving it.

    And I think there's widespread agreement among Americans that, number one, we have got to get serious about securing the border and about stopping illegal immigration.

    And, number two, we need to remain a nation that doesn't just welcome, but celebrates legal immigrants who come here seeking a better life, seeking the American dream.

    Judy, when I was sworn in, when I put my hand on the Bible and — on the Senate floor, I couldn't help but think back to 1957 when my father came as an immigrant from Cuba, 18, couldn't speak English, washed dishes make 50 cents an hour. If someone had come to that teenage immigrant and told him 55 years hence, his son would be sworn in as a United States senator to represent the great state of Texas, that would have been unimaginable.

    And yet, on Thursday, my father sat in the gallery and looked down as I took the oath to be a U.S. senator.


    And just quickly, for those who are here illegally now?


    My view is that we should enforce the laws with respect to those who are here illegally now. And if we secure the border and if we improve legal immigration, if we improve legal immigration, if we speed it up, if we make it more efficient, if we stop the interminable delays, that will solve much of the problem by providing an open, legal avenue for people to come in without violating the law.


    Sen. Ted Cruz, newly elected from the state of Texas, thank you very much.


    Thank you, Judy, for having me.


    In recent weeks, we have also talked with Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Tim Kaine of Virginia, as well as independent Angus King of Maine. You can find those interviews on our website.