Some of the biggest fireworks in the 2016 presidential race continue to come between Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The two senators — who poll in the No. 3 and No. 4 positions in most national GOP primary surveys — have repeatedly taken swipes at each other in recent weeks, and this week has been no exception.
Both have a pet issue with which to hit each other.
For Rubio, it is Cruz’s support for a bill he claims weakened national security. For Cruz, it’s Rubio’s support for “amnesty.”
Cruz said in a Monday interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he laughed when he saw an ad from a pro-Rubio group that hit him on national security. Politico reported last week that the ad, from a pro-Rubio 501(c)(4) nonprofit, attacked Cruz for voting for the USA Freedom Act, which curtailed some of the government’s bulk collection of phone metadata.
Or as the ad put it, Cruz voted to “weaken America’s ability to identify and hunt down terrorists.”
“I have to say my first reaction when I saw the attack ad was to chuckle,” Cruz told Hewitt. “I don’t think it is an attack that is going to work. I think it is a substantively false attack. And I think the reason that Rubio’s allies have resorted to false attack ads is they are very, very nervous about our surge in the polls, about the fact that conservatives are uniting behind our campaign.”
Cruz claimed that Rubio’s supporters were trying to distract Republican voters from Rubio’s past support for comprehensive immigration reform. Cruz reminded Hewitt’s audience three times that Rubio was a member of the “Gang of Eight” with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) on the 2013 immigration bill, legislation from which Rubio has since backed away.
“They’re even more nervous about all the scrutiny that people are focusing on Marco Rubio’s longtime partnership with Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer pushing a massive amnesty plan,” Cruz said while arguing that the Freedom Act actually strengthened national security. “And so I think they were looking to change the subject, and they believed that launching a false attack based on the USA Freedom Act was the way to do it.”
The Texas senator further declared that it was ironic for Rubio’s supporters to hit him on national-security issues because the Rubio-backed immigration bill would have given President Barack Obama “more authority to admit Syrian refugees.”
“Now you want to talk about a threat to national security — Marco Rubio and Chuck Schumer giving Barack Obama a blank check to admit as many Syrian refugees as he wants with no background checks. That is a profound threat to national security,” Cruz said.
In a Monday interview on Fox News, Rubio was asked about some of Cruz’s recent criticism. Rubio responded by continuing to hit Cruz for “unfortunately” voting for the Freedom Act, which he said made the country less safe from terror attacks.
“I stand strongly on behalf on the ability of this government to gather intelligence on our adversaries and our enemies,” Rubio told Fox’s Greta Van Susteren. “Those keep us safer. And there are Republicans — including Sen. Cruz — that have voted to weaken those programs. That’s just part of the record. It’s nothing personal.”
Because of the Cruz-backed bill, Rubio said, “If God forbid there were a terrorist attack in America tomorrow, we would not be able to gather the phone records of individuals that might be part of that plot in a time-effective way.”
The two senators continued to take shots at one another in a Bloomberg Politics article published Monday evening.
Cruz told Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur that Rubio “emphatically supported Hillary Clinton in toppling [Muammar] Qaddafi in Libya,” which Cruz said “made no sense.”
“While Senator Cruz voted to gut US intelligence programs and make Americans less safe,” Rubio’s campaign spokesman responded, “nobody has shown a better understanding of the threats we face in the 21st Century than Marco.”
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