As Secretary of State John Kerry testified Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, protesters gathered in the shade of Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, to voice their opinions on President Barack Obama's Iran deal.
The event, slated to feature presidential hopeful Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, was hosted by the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee. Before either was scheduled to arrive, the situation had already devolved into mayhem. Members of CWALAC were joined by opposing protesters from CodePink, a woman-led organization that supports the Iran Deal. Protesters jostled for space, jockeying for best positions to hold their signs behind the two expected guests as they spoke. One protester from CWALAC even tore up the sign of a Code Pink protester.
Penny Nance, the CEO and president of CWALAC, spoke first, though her voice had difficulty competing with the singing of both groups of protesters. She was followed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.
Once Cruz stepped to the mic, protesters and media drew as close as possible. Paul never showed.
"There is nothing more pressing right now than Americans across this country coming together to stop this catastrophic Iran nuclear deal," Cruz said in the opening of his remarks.
Just minutes later, a CodePink protester shouted with a megaphone, "We want a peace president. We want a peace candidate. We want diplomacy not war." Attendees from CWALAC chanted "We want Ted!" in response.
Perhaps taking a note from other presidential hopefuls Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders, Cruz invited a protester to the microphone for a debate.
Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of CodePink, stepped forward.
"The entire world is saying this is the best deal that we're going to get to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon to bring about a peaceful settlement of this problem," she said. "What makes you think, as Ted Cruz, that you know better than all of these countries together?"
Cruz responded by mentioning that this deal will send "over $100 billion to Iran and those billions of dollars will be used to murder Americans."
"I recognize the folks in CodePink like to hold up signs saying 'Peace with Iran,'" he continued. "Do you know who doesn't reciprocate those views? Iran."
Cruz continued his discourse, fighting to speak over the chants of protesters, engaging with another protester, not from CodePink, who was calling out.
"This deal is a complete capitulation by President Obama to radical Islamic, theocratic, zealots who want to murder millions of Americans," Cruz said.
Cruz declared he advocates "peace through strength," as he criticized Obama and warned of potential consequences of the Iran Deal, including an "increased likelihood that millions of Americans, millions of Europeans, millions of Israelis may die" as well as a "second 9/11."
"In all likelihood the next president is going to be faced with a binary choice: Either acquiesce in Iran's acquiring nuclear weapons and risk allowing the annihilation of millions of Americans, or take direct military force to prevent it," Cruz said.
At the daily White House briefing with reporters Thursday afternoon, Press Secretary Josh Earnest denounced the event as a "pro-war rally."
Cruz also echoed his fellow Republicans by touching on a highly criticized aspect of the Iran Deal — the 24-day notice before inspection.
"Imagine if we passed a law that said any drug lord, before you execute a search warrant on their premises gets 24 days notice," he said. "I guarantee you 100 percent of those inspections of that drug lord, you'd never find drugs. That's what we've set up with Iran."
Despite the White House's objection, the event's organizers and opposing protesters viewed it as positive.
Benjamin thought it was great Cruz called her up to speak with him. Another CodePink protester, Nate Atwell, who walked with Cruz out of the event, thought Cruz's engagement with protesters was "exactly how it should be."
"I hope that in the time I had with Ted Cruz I was able to use myself as a conduit for the voiceless," Atwell said.
Nance, head of the women's group that organized it, was pleased with the attention the event received, since the purpose was to emphasize the four American hostages held in Iran.
"We prayed for the men who are being held hostage, and I was really grateful that everyone acknowledged them and talked about them," Nance said. "These are such important issues, so any attention that we can bring to the issue is a win."
The event's schedule of speakers continued with less debate after Cruz concluded. He stood about 50 feet away, posing for photos with supporters.