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No, Accurately Fact-Checking Cruz on Immigration Isn't a 'Smear'

In 2013, Marco Rubio was one of the most prominent co-sponsors and spokesmen for a 'comprehensive immigration reform' bill. To his credit, he put a sizable portion of his political capital on the line in an effort to solve an entrenched national problem. Unfortunately, the legislation he endorsed was 
irredeemably flawed. After passing the Senate, it ran into a brick wall in the Republican-held House of Representatives. One of the strongest opponents of Rubio's bill -- on which the Floridian teamed up with calculating, liberal Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin -- was fellow Senate freshman Ted Cruz. The Texas Senator ferociously fought against the bill, coming up short in the upper chamber, but helping to establish the conditions under which the 'Gang of Eight' legislation met its deserved demise down the hall.  Now that these promising young conservative leaders are competing for the Republican presidential nomination, this 2013 episode has emerged as a flashpoint. Given the mood of the grassroots, Cruz has the stronger primary campaign argument: This was a bad bill. I adamantly opposed it. Rubio was its co-author. For his part, Rubio (whose judgment I've criticized here and here) has abandoned his support for the bill he once championed, now preferring a sequential set of piecemeal reforms, starting with verifiable border enforcement. In order to blunt some of Cruz's criticism, Rubio has audaciously tried to frame Cruz's stance as not especially dissimilar to his own, pointing to the fact that his colleague has supported the mass legalization of millions of non-criminal illegal immigrants already in the United States.  His evidence?  Cruz's own words:

As the Gang of Eight debate played out, Cruz introduced an amendment that would have gutted the bill's 'path to citizenship' provision, leaving its 'permanent legal status' elements in place.  If the legislation's supporters were really interested in addressing the problem and helping illegal immigrants emerge "from the shadows" -- as opposed to signing up new voters -- they should join him in passing his compromise amendment, Cruz argued.  The amendment was defeated, with the help of Gang of Eight Republicans (who aligned with Democrats to shoot down all substantive proposed changes).  Recently, in response to Rubio's clever -- if slightly cynical -- parry, Cruz is needlessly overplaying his already-strong hand.  In doing so, he is crossing into disingenuousness, wrongly denying that he ever supported legalization.  He did, explicitly, as 
Erick Erickson correctly notes.  Cruz said so himself in Senate hearings and on NPR.  He urged his Senate colleagues to embrace his plan, arguing that its outcome would vastly improve the overall bill's chances of becoming law.  "I don't want immigration reform to fail.  I want immigration reform to pass," he said at the time, before making an appeal to "people of good faith" on both sides of the aisle to rally behind his plan.  Cruz supporters now say the Texan was offering a so-called 'poison pill' to expose proponents' true motives and help kill the bill.  Commentator Amanda Carpenter, who worked for Cruz at the time, has made this point, as has Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Cruz ally on the issue.  I have no reason to doubt either of them.  But that doesn't erase the problem of Cruz's own extemporaneous, earnest-sounding, insistent explanations. He was asked at least twice -- once by right-leaning journalist Byron York, and once by conservative Princeton professor Robert George -- whether his amendment represented a genuine effort to improve the bill, as opposed to a poison pill.  In both cases, Cruz swore that it was the former, not the latter:

“In introducing amendments, what I endeavored to do was improve that bill so that it actually fixes the problem,” Cruz told me. “I think an overwhelming majority of Americans in both parties wants to see our broken immigration system fixed, wants to see the problem solved, the border secured, and our remaining a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants. Given that bipartisan agreement outside of Washington, my objective was not to kill immigration reform but to amend the Gang of Eight bill so that it actually solves the problem rather than making the problem worse.” ...

“The amendment I introduced affected only citizenship; it did not affect the underlying legalization in the Gang of Eight bill.” George followed up, “Would your bill pass the House, or would it be killed because it was proposing ‘amnesty’?” Cruz replied,“I believe that if my amendments were adopted, the bill would pass. My effort in introducing them was to find solution that reflected common ground and fixed the problem.”

Confronted with the incontrovertible evidence of the Senator's past support for mass legalization (he remains notably cagey on this policy question) and his clear-cut statements that his 2013 amendment was not about torpedoing the legislation, hardcore Cruz partisans have resorted to three lines of argument:(1) Engaging in ad hominem, unresponsive invective -- "RINO, establishment shill," etc.  This is unproductive and unpersuasive, especially since those terms have been badly abused to the point of losing nearly all meaning. (2) Asserting that offering a legislative amendment, exhorting colleagues to adopt it, and calling a proposal an 'actual solution' to 'fix a problem' does not actually constitute "support."  This tortured parsing would make even the Clintons blush. (3) Contending that Cruz was justified in using guerrilla methods to undermine the bill, including tactical dishonesty.  Our friends at The Right Scoop  chose door number three yesterday, accusing me of "smearing" Cruz:

It indeed was as strategic move designed to expose what the Gang of 8 bill was all about. We show that here via Amanda Carpenter. Carpenter actually worked for Cruz and knew what he was doing. She’s no hack. But Benson ignores all of that and says that Cruz actually told reporters and others at the time that basically he was really trying to fix the bill. This is the basis of his argument. Well, what’s Cruz supposed to say? Is he supposed to expose the lies of the Gang of 8 by arguing one thing in the Senate and telling everyone else something different? Then his fellow Senators would surely know his strategy and start spreading it everywhere in order to refute Cruz. It’s not hard to put this together. Guy Benson can do better.

In fact, I did not "ignore" the poison pill angle (nor did I ever suggest Carpenter was a "hack"); I addressed it at some length in my original piece.  Nevertheless, the bolded sentence above is a clarifying, refreshingly candid defense of the Gruberesque 'Noble Lie.'  Cruz couldn't be honest with people about what he was doing, you see, because then his opponents could've dismissed his approach as counterfeit posturing.  He had to pretend that he authentically supported non-citizenship legalization as a "solution that reflected common ground."  So he was passionately beseeching "people of good faith" to support an idea he was bad faith, while adamantly denying his true intentions.  That's not a good look. And now noticing any of this is a "smear"?  Absurd.  Radio host Mark Levin  triumphantly tweeted out the TRS link yesterday afternoon, as if it were a dispositive refutation of my factually-accurate critique -- gratuitously adding that I am incapable of 'doing better' in my work:

I'm truly sorry Mr. Levin feels this way.  I will forever be profoundly grateful for his fulsome endorsement of the book I co-authored with Mary Katharine Ham, in which he praised us as "great, young, new conservative voices," adding, "you don't have to agree with everything they have to say -- and that's the point!" 
Indeed.  I'm disappointed that he's chosen to make our current disagreement personal.  It isn't, and needn't be.  That said, if it requires me to ignore evidence and retreat from sound analysis in the face of criticism, he is right: I'm not interested in "doing better."  I'll leave you with my suggestion for how Cruz could have sidestepped Rubio's countermeasures without resorting to slippery weasel words and distortions.  The big-picture facts are on his side (read from the bottom up):

UPDATEMore evidence via a Texas Tribune article published months after the Gang of Eight bill passed the Senate. Note the highlighted bits:

What Cruz has tried to articulate in both word and deed is a middle ground. It got no support from Democrats in Washington, but it goes further than many on the far right want to go by offering leniency to undocumented immigrants here already: A path to legal status, but not to citizenship. A green card with no right to naturalization. Immigration-reform legislation from the Senate’s so-called Gang of Eight passed that chamber in June and includes a 13-year path to citizenship. Cruz pushed unsuccessfully for amendments that would have, among other things, eliminated the citizenship component. Asked about what to do with the people here illegally, however, he stressed that he had never tried to undo the goal of allowing them to stay. “The amendment that I introduced removed the path to citizenship, but it did not change the underlying work permit from the Gang of Eight,” he said during a recent visit to El Paso. Cruz also noted that he had not called for deportation or, as Mitt Romney famously advocated, self-deportation. Cruz said recent polling indicated that people outside Washington support some reform, including legal status without citizenship.

So post-Gang of Eight, Cruz stressed that he hadn't opposed permanent legal status, called *citizenship* the "poison pill," noted that he hadn't called for mass deportations, and touted polling in support of the position he'd advocated (legal status without citizenship).  I don't have a problem with Cruz's stance, mind you -- I just think it's disingenuous for Cruz to pretend that it isn't -- and never was -- his own.

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