Ted Cruz has launched his presidential campaign after just 27 months in the Senate, though it has been a tenure marked by hard-line conservative policies, one of the longest speeches in Senate history and an effort to undermine President Barack Obama’s health care law that led to a 16-day partial government shutdown.
In his brief Senate career, Cruz has become known as an orator and a provocateur, not a legislative craftsman or deal-maker. Now that he’s in the White House race, he will be spending less time in the Senate, which from the start has been only one of the several stages on which he has performed. No other senator in recent memory has made such a strong first impression so quickly.
Cruz has made his mark as an outspoken, stalwart constitutionalist — and irritated some colleagues in doing so. He has even called some fellow Republican senators “squishes” on the issue of gun control. More recently, he pressured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to block a vote on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general as a protest of President Barack Obama’s executive actions deferring the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants, which he called an illegal action.
He has been quick to seize opportunities to criticize Obama and see the worst in his motives.
In the summer of 2014, when the Federal Aviation Administration banned U.S. flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport due to Hamas rockets landing near the runway, Cruz said Obama “has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands.” Cruz wondered aloud whether the FAA’s announcement was in fact “a political decision driven by the White House.”
Raised in Texas, the son of a Cuban immigrant and schooled in the Ivy League — Princeton and Harvard Law — Cruz is smart, talkative, skilled in debate and deeply conservative.
He was elected to the Senate with the support of the tea party movement in 2012. He had never been on a ballot before, though he had been Texas’ first Hispanic solicitor general and had argued nine cases before the United States Supreme Court.
His relentless and at times melodramatic rhetorical style seems to have been influenced by his father, Rafael Cruz, who is an evangelical pastor and a speaker at conservative events. As a member of the Armed Services Committee in February 2013, Cruz pressed Obama’s nominee for Defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, to reveal the origins of various speaking fees, suggesting Hagel might have been paid by North Korea.
Florida Democrat Bill Nelson — usually a reserved lawmaker — lectured Cruz on “comity and civility” in the committee, accusing the Texan of having “impugned the patriotism of the nominee.”
Several weeks later on the Judiciary Committee, Cruz had a run-in with California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the sponsor of a bill to ban assault weapons. Cruz, who strongly opposes proscriptions of gun rights, asked whether she supported limiting First Amendment protections to a select list of books. “I’m not a sixth grader,” Feinstein snapped. “I’ve been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. … I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons.”
Cruz is most widely known for his talking. He was one of several Republicans who contributed to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s “talking filibuster” in March 2013. They spoke for 13 hours against the nomination of John O. Brennan for CIA director, raising questions about the constitutionality of government use of drones to kill Americans on U.S. soil.
Cruz’s feelings about government stem in part from his family’s history in Cuba. His father fought alongside Fidel Castro’s rebels, was jailed and beaten and escaped thanks to a bribe. “He was a guerrilla, throwing Molotov cocktails and blowing up buildings,” Cruz told the Austin American Statesman in 2006. In 1957, Cruz’s father emigrated from Cuba to Austin with only $100 sewn into his underwear.
Cruz was born in Calgary, Canada, and grew up in Houston. He expressed an early interest in law and politics, and he had a patron of sorts in Rolland Storey, a retired public relations executive who set up an education center to teach free-market economic theory.
One of Storey’s collaborators told the Dallas Morning News how Cruz memorized an outline of the Constitution and recited it for local civic clubs. He was on the debate team at Princeton, at one point winning an award for speaker of the year.
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