Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says students from the high school near Houston where the deadly shooting occurred told him they don’t believe more gun control is the way to make schools safer.
In an interview in his Senate office Tuesday with The Daily Signal, Cruz said support for the Second Amendment in Texas is why CNN and other media outlets aren’t giving these students the kind of wall-to-wall coverage that followed the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Cruz also talked about why the Senate should work full workweeks and potentially skip the August recess to get more done. From making tax reform for individuals and small businesses permanent to repealing Obamacare’s employer mandate, the Texas senator said plenty of legislative priorities could be passed with a simple majority and Republicans should take advantage of the relatively rare opportunity of being in charge in Washington.
Cruz also applauded President Donald Trump both for listening to many views and for standing up to much of official Washington and fulfilling his promises to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and get America out of the Iran nuclear deal.
Watch the video of the full interview below. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Genevieve Wood: Sen. Cruz, thank you for sitting down with The Daily Signal. We appreciate it.
Sen. Ted Cruz: Always glad to be with you.
Wood: Let’s start first with our home state of Texas. A tragedy happened last week at a high school in Santa Fe. What are you hearing from folks on the ground there?
Cruz: The shooting Friday morning was just horrific. Santa Fe is a town that is about 30 miles outside of Houston, which is my hometown, about 30 minutes from my house. I was at home Friday morning when the shooting occurred, and I spent the entire day in Santa Fe.
At this point, we know that this deranged gunman, this young man who was a student at the school, he came in at 7:30 in the morning with a shotgun and revolver, and he murdered 10 people—eight students and two teachers. He injured an additional 13.
It was truly horrific. I spent a great deal of time with law enforcement officers, teachers, with parents, with students. The shock and trauma, it’s powerful. I went to the hospital and visited with some of the students who had been wounded.
I remember one particular hospital room, where there was a young man named Clayton who had been shot in the leg and he’d been shot in the arm. He’d just come out of surgery and he was conscious and in good spirits. Clayton is a bull rider and also a pole vaulter. I asked him what his best height was, and he said 13 and a half feet.
It was his left elbow that had been shot pretty badly. He had pins all up and down his left arm. I asked him, “Are you a lefty or are you a righty?” He said, “I’m a lefty.” He just smiled and said, “But I’ll learn to ride bulls with my right hand.”
Wood: Great spirit.
Cruz: It was that kind of—even in the face of horror—that spirit of hope and optimism. Probably a dozen students were there in that hospital room visiting Clayton, most of whom had been at the school. The agony the parents went through, I mean, that’s every parent’s nightmare. You send your daughter, your son off to school that morning, and they never come home.
Wood: Many parents, obviously in Texas but across the country, are asking, “Should I be worried about any of this?” Where does this move us in the whole issue addressing school safety?
Cruz: Well, listen. There have been too dang many of these. We’ve seen them over and over again, whether Santa Fe, or Parkland, or just six months ago in Texas, Sutherland Springs, the worst church shooting in the history of our country. I’ve too many times gone and cried with and held and comforted and prayed with the victims of these shootings.
Something’s wrong. When we were kids, this wasn’t a part of going to school. You might worry about getting a black eye at school or something, but you didn’t worry about someone, some lunatic coming in and shooting and murdering as many people as they could. That was not part of school.
Wood: And you have a lot of folks saying mental health problems here are an issue, and violence we see in video games and movies and all the like. But so, what do we do about that?
Cruz: I think there’s a lot we can do about it. You can focus on schools, but you can focus on also gun violence more generally. On schools, it was interesting: We’re in that hospital visiting with those students. I was there with the governor of Texas [Republican Greg Abbott], the two of us were there. We asked: “What’s the answer? What should we do?” And then we just shut up, we just listened.
And it was really striking. Out of a dozen students who just hours earlier had been in this shooting, every one of them said the answer is not gun control. They said, don’t take our guns. They said if you take our guns, it won’t make us safer, it will just mean the killers and murderers have guns.
A lot of the students there said, “Well, maybe more metal detectors in schools. Maybe more armed police officers in schools, so that you’re able to stop something like this when it happens.” Several of the students brought up that they thought teachers should be able to be armed.
One student who was there, he was in the adjoining classroom … he said his teacher was a former Marine, who was trained to handle a firearm, obviously, in the Marines. He said he wished his teacher had been armed; he might have been able to stop the killer before he killed so many people.
Those are the ideas that the students were suggesting. Now I will say, it’s fairly striking that, you look at the mainstream media, CNN, after the Parkland shooting, it was round-the-clock coverage of the students calling for aggressive gun control because that happens to be the political agenda of most of the media. In this case, where the students aren’t calling for that, suddenly … the media isn’t interested in covering it.
Wood: They’re not as interested. And you know, this is so much of a local issue, a state issue. But is there something at the federal level that …
Cruz: There’s a lot that can be done and should be done. Just a couple of months ago, in the federal budget deal, we included $2.5 billion of funding that could be spent on school safety, could be spent on things like metal detectors and police officers.
Things like examining the footprint of a school and reducing the number of entrances and exits, so that you don’t have—this shooter came in essentially a back door of an annex, where the art [class] was. If you had just one or two entrances where you had metal detectors and armed guards …
Wood: The way you have in this building [the Dirksen Senate Office Building].
Cruz: The way you have—
Wood: Several entrances were closed when we tried to enter here today.
Cruz: In this building … there are a ton of buildings where [you have] one or two entrances, and you have a security point to keep people safe. I think that’s something that should be examined closely.
I also think that there’s a lot more we can do going after violent criminals. Inevitably, people say, “We’ve got to do something.” That’s right, we do have to do something. But we need to do something that works. The proposals from Democrats, of taking away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, they don’t work. They’re not effective in reducing violent crime.
If you look at the jurisdictions across the country with the strictest gun control, almost inevitably they have among the highest crime rates, the highest murder rates. It’s actually what the students told me on Friday is true, that when you disarm the law-abiding citizens, then it means the criminals are the ones that have guns.
If you want to stop these kinds of crimes, there are things we can do. In 2013, I introduced legislation along with Chuck Grassley from Iowa, it was called the Grassley-Cruz legislation. It targets violent criminals. On the school safety front, it provided $300 million in additional school safety funding, funding that maybe could have made a difference preventing Parkland, preventing Santa Fe, if there were additional officers there.
Sadly, Grassley-Cruz, the Democrats filibustered it. They didn’t allow it to pass into law. We’ve got a majority of senators voted for Grassley-Cruz, but the Senate Democrats, [then-Minority Leader] Harry Reid and the Democrats demanded 60 votes and they killed it.
But not only that, Grassley-Cruz focused on the bad guys. If you look at Sutherland Springs, it was already contrary to federal law for that gunman to have a firearm. He had a felony conviction, a domestic violence conviction. But the Obama administration never reported his conviction to the background check database, so it was never in the database.
Grassley-Cruz required an audit to make sure that every conviction is in that database, so the database doesn’t have holes. And it required the Department of Justice to prosecute felons and fugitives who tried to illegally buy firearms.
What that means is, if Grassley-Cruz had passed into law, if the Democrats hadn’t filibustered it, the shooter at Sutherland Springs, when he tried to illegally buy that gun, he would’ve been arrested, he would have been prosecuted, and he would have been in federal jail instead of murdering innocent men, women, and children at that beautiful church in central Texas.
Wood: Would you consider reintroducing Grassley-Cruz? Is that something that could come back?
Cruz: It is, and I have reintroduced it. I’m pressing for it. Let’s take it up for a vote. Let’s pass it into law. Let’s focus on what actually works. The odd thing is, the media and many Senate Democrats, they aren’t interested in what works to reduce crime.
Sutherland Springs is another shooting they never like to talk about, because what stopped that shooting was another citizen. Stephen Willeford, law-abiding citizen, lived a block away from the church, who heard about it, ran over barefoot with his AR-15 and engaged the gunman. And ultimately saved many, many lives. Far too often what stops a bad person is a good person with a gun.
But that’s not what the media wants. They want to ban firearms for law-abiding citizens. If you want to stop violent crime, focus on the criminals. That’s something I’ve led the effort to do in the Senate. That’s something I’m going to continue leading the effort on.
Wood: You also have teamed up with some other senators who recently said there are a number of things that we need to do instead that aren’t getting done. I think you sided with maybe 16 other senators that sent a letter … to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying, “Why don’t we work on Monday and Fridays? Why don’t we cancel the August recess?” Not only so you can get more nominations through, but we don’t end up against the clock on funding the government bill. Where are you on that? Do you think the majority leader is going to agree?
Cruz: You know, I hope so. But we’ll see. We need to get—
Wood: Why is it so important? Why are things so jammed here?
Cruz: We need to get more done. And we need to take advantage of the opportunity we have. A few weeks ago, I did a presentation to the Senate Republican Conference. I was walking through an elaborate PowerPoint where I said in the last 100 years, we have had unified Republican control of the federal government—Republican House, Senate, and White House—four times, in 100 years. Since World War II, it’s only been a total of eight years that we’ve had unified Republican control. History teaches us this is rare.
This is an unusual opportunity. In my view, we shouldn’t waste a second. We should be working every minute of every hour of every day as long as the voters entrust us with unified control.
Now listen, in the last year and a half, I think we’ve gotten a great deal done. A great deal done that the media never talks about. They’re obsessed with whatever the latest porn star eruption is. I have to say, in Texas nobody cares about that.
If you look at what we’ve gotten accomplished: historic tax cuts, major regulatory reform, lifting job-killing regulations from small businesses and job creators, repealing the Obamacare individual mandate, which is real tax relief to the 6 and a half million Americans who are fined every year by the IRS because they can’t afford health insurance, confirming a record number of constitutionalist judges. All of those are critically important.
We’ve gotten those accomplished, but what I’ve been urging our leadership and my colleagues to do is let’s keep working and delivering. That means, let’s not take recesses, let’s not take vacations. Right now, the Senate typically works a three- to four-day week.
We’re facing historic Democratic obstruction, filibusters. The mantra of the Democrats—they’re listening to their extreme left wing—is fight, obstruct, resist. Resist is what they say over and over again.
Wood: So you don’t think they want to get anything passed?
Cruz: They want nothing. The Democrats’ position right now is “Hell, no.” On everything. They’re captive to the far left wing of their party. That can’t be an excuse for us not to deliver on the promises we made to the voters.
Wood: And as you all have said, we really want to make sure we don’t come up against the clock in September on spending, we want to get more nominations through. Democrats are also blaming Republicans right now for an increase in health care premiums. Is there a chance in your view to go back and revisit complete repeal of Obamacare between now and November?
Cruz: Absolutely. What I did in the presentation to the Republican conference, I walked through probably 30 or 40 bills that different Republican senators had introduced, all across the conference, all sorts of different senators.
I said, look, these are all bills that I think have a real shot at getting 50 votes, at unifying the Republican conference, that will deliver real results. They run the gamut, from things like, on tax reform, making the individual tax cuts permanent, making small business tax cuts permanent, making [business] expensing permanent.
On Obamacare, there are a lot of things that could easily get 50 votes in the Republican conference. Ending the employer mandate, which would be an enormous benefit to jobs and small businesses. Expanding health savings accounts. Letting people who use health savings accounts to pay for premiums. That would effectively reduce premiums 20 to 30 percent like that. Codifying association health plans and short-term limited duration plans, which gives consumers more choices and drives down the cost of health care.
All of those are things we could do. Regulatory reform, codifying the REINS Act that says any economic regulation that imposes $100 million in cost to the economy or more can’t go into effect without an affirmative up-down vote from Congress. Enormously impactful.
What I urged my colleagues to do is, if you look at almost everything we got accomplished last year, we did it through legislative vehicles that only take 50 votes, that can’t be filibustered. So what I encouraged everyone, let’s decide what we want to accomplish as a conference in the next eight months and then let’s take up legislative votes that the Democrats can’t filibuster.
We know they’re going to obstruct. So let’s actually fight to win. Let’s have a strategy of here’s what we want to go to the American people saying, we promised you we would deliver and we did. Here’s our strategy to get it through in the face of Democratic obstruction.
I think there are a lot of members who agree with me on this. This is an active debate within the conference. I hope we’ll follow through and step up.
Wood: We’ll be watching to see. Final question. On the international front, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a big speech this week on what’s next after the Iran deal. One of the things he talked about was the administration believes this probably ought to be a treaty if we’re going to move forward with something. Is that something you think the Senate would take up?
Cruz: I absolutely believe that any deal with Iran should be a treaty. It should be confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate. One of the things that Barack Obama did with the Iran deal is he subverted the constitutional requirements for a treaty because he knew it couldn’t get confirmed.
Remember, the Obama Iran deal was opposed by a bipartisan majority of both houses of Congress. Not only couldn’t he get two-thirds to ratify it, he couldn’t get even a majority of either house.
Whether there’s a new Iran deal or not, I want to say that President Trump in the last two weeks has been incredibly consequential to foreign policy. Two events that occurred within days of each other. One was opening the American Embassy in Jerusalem.
Last Monday, I was in Jerusalem. It was the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel. It was truly a moment of history. When David Ben-Gurion formed the modern state of Israel, 11 minutes later President Harry Truman recognized Israel. America’s leadership with Israel has been powerful for the 70 years since then.
Presidents of both parties have promised they would move our American Embassy to Jerusalem. It’s the capital of Israel, it’s where the government is based, it’s where the Supreme Court [is], it’s where the Knesset is, it’s where the prime minister is, it’s where the president is. And yet, [U.S.] presidents of both parties have failed to follow through.
In the Trump administration, there was a big, active debate and argument about whether and when to move the embassy. The State Department and Defense Department both pressed back against moving the embassy. I was very, very active urging the president to do it and that this was the right thing to do.
Those within the administration who didn’t want the embassy moved, what they said is, “Look, we want to see peace in the Middle East. Moving the embassy makes that harder.” I’ll tell you what I told the president.
I said, listen, No. 1, the impediment to peace is not Israel. No one wants peace more than Israel. It is the Israeli babies that are being murdered. The impediment to peace is as long as the Palestinian leadership refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and embraces terrorism, I don’t believe there will be peace.
But what I also told the president is that whatever the chances are of peace, they are increased by moving the embassy. Why is that? Because although we can expect, and this did happen, that our Arab allies in the region would protest, we would see cries of dismay from Egypt and the Saudis, the Jordanians. They would have to, they would believe for domestic political reasons they would have to.
What I told the president is that I believe privately they would be incredibly relieved. Because what they would say is that a president strong enough to stand up to the criticism of the global media elite, to say to the world, “We stand by our friends and we stand up to our enemies,” is also a president strong enough to pull out of Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal. For our Arab allies, they recognize that a nuclear Iran is the greatest threat to our security, to their security, to Israel’s security.
So on Monday [May 14], we finally opened that embassy. It was a piece of history. I was there for it. There’s no way I was going to be anywhere else but right there in Jerusalem.
Also, within days [on May 8], the president did the right thing, pulled out of the Iran deal. There was the exact same debate within the administration. The same forces that didn’t want to move the embassy didn’t want to end the Iran deal. Once again, I spent a great deal of time urging the president, this is the right thing to do.
I’ll tell you, I was sitting in the Oval Office with President Trump and with [national security adviser] John Bolton 30 minutes before the Iran speech pulling out of [the nuclear deal] and helping, working with them on that speech.
It’s the right thing to do because the Obama Iran deal sent billions of dollars to the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. It put Iran on an inevitable path to acquire nuclear weapons. The Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini, when he chants, “Death to Israel” and “Death to America,” I believe him.
What I urged the president to do and what he’s done, and what Secretary Pompeo’s speech said, is under no circumstances ever will the Ayatollah Khomeini be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. That’s what the position of the United States should be, and I’m very gratified that’s the position the administration is taking.
Wood: Final question for you. As you saw him walk through that decision-making process … President Trump, how does he make these decisions? Why do you think he came down the way he did?
Cruz: Listen, on a great many of these issues, you’ve got multiple voices. You’ve got voices within the Cabinet. You’ve got voices in the business community. You’ve got the media pushing you. I can tell you, I think he hears all of them.
Wood: He just met with the French president [who supports the Iran deal].
Cruz: He did. President [Emmanuel] Macron. And also all of the European leaders were pressing him to remain in the deal. I will say … my office is speaking with the White House every day, and sometimes every hour.
Really, the two things that are consuming my time in the Senate are, No. 1, doing everything I can to encourage the president, encourage the administration on a positive direction, not a negative direction. No. 2, doing everything that I can to bring Republicans together in the Senate to deliver on our promises, not to waste this unique opportunity.
I’ve been very, very pleased that—there’s a lot of chaos, it’s the political circus, it’s insane. In Washington, the media are consumed with the scandal of the day. My approach when I walk down the hallways in the Capitol and the reporters start asking questions, I say, you know what? I don’t comment on tweets, I won’t comment on the random comment of the day.
If you want to talk substance, you want to talk policy, you want to talk tax reform, reg reform, Obamacare, judges, you want to talk national security, Iran, Israel, North Korea, I’ll talk about any of those. But if you want to talk about whatever has the talking heads on cable lighting their hair on fire, I’ve got nothing to say.
I’m not going to defend the indefensible. But what Texans are interested in, they’re not interested in the latest clutch-my-pearls scandal in Washington. They’re interested in real results. More jobs, higher wages, more opportunity, protect our rights.
That’s my focus, and I’ve been very encouraged that the Trump administration, over and over again, the president has been willing to make the right decision after hearing counsel from a lot of people.
Wood: Sen. Cruz, thank you very much.
Cruz: Thank you.