WASHINGTON – Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, represents a defense-intensive state, with 15 military bases and many defense contractors, especially in Fort Worth and North Texas.
So when Cruz gave an impassioned speech Tuesday in South Carolina, another military state holding a GOP primary Saturday, with a plan to build up the military, it was an expected show of good politics.
Yet during his three years in the Senate, Cruz has voted against the annual defense authorization bill every time. It is always for the same reason: The bill did not prohibit the “indefinite detention” of U.S. citizens arrested in the United States without trial or due process.
“The Constitution does not allow President Obama, or any president, to apprehend an American citizen, arrested on U.S. soil, and detain these citizens indefinitely without a trial,” Cruz said in 2013, his first year in the Senate. “When I ran for office, I promised the people of Texas I would oppose any National Defense Authorization Act that did not explicitly prohibit the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens.”
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Cruz, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has repeated that reason when he voted against the defense bill in 2014 and 2015.
At issue is what happens to the rights of U.S. citizens who are held as “enemy combatants.” Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, was held for three years after being arrested in Chicago in 2002 for allegedly plotting to explode a “dirty bomb.”
He was detained at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., without being charged until he was indicted in 2005 and transferred to civilian custody in 2006. He was later convicted by a Miami jury of conspiracy to aid terrorists and sentenced in 2008 to over 17 years in prison, a sentence that was an appeals court increased to 21 years.
It is a civil-liberties, libertarian position first promoted by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and then pursued by his son, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. But is the view consistent with Cruz’s proclaimed pro-defense position to vote against defense bills?
“America needs a strong military to protect our great nation and the freedoms we hold dear,” Cruz said Tuesday on board the USS Yorktown, docked in Mount Pleasant, S.C. “Rebuilding the American military will be one of the most serious tasks facing the next commander in chief. Our goal should not be to simply pour back into the Department of Defense the trillions of dollars President Obama so irresponsibly drained out, but rather to seize this opportunity to make a generational investment in our defenses … . We will invest in our military with a simple goal: more tooth, less tail.”
The expression, used in the Pentagon, refers to weapons systems – more “tooth” – as opposed to a bureaucratic support system, the “tail.”
Presidential rival Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., raised Cruz’s voting record on defense in a Republican debate and is now speaking out on what he says is Cruz’s lack of support for defense.
But Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler said that the NDAA “does not appropriate,” meaning deliver funding for military purposes.
That is a separate process from authorization that sets policy courses and budget targets for the Pentagon. And, said Tyler, in 2015 the Senate considered an appropriation for defense and “Cruz voted for it.” Rubio missed that vote which failed in any case for not reaching the 60 vote threshold to pass.
The defense spending later passed as part of a $1.1-trillion omnibus spending package that funded the federal government for fiscal year 2016 – and which Cruz voted against. Rubio, who was also opposed to the omnibus, missed that vote, too, because he was campaigning.
Rubio supporter Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., issued a statement critical of the Texan after his speech.
“Cruz is pro-military when he passes a soldier in uniform, but he abandons that same soldier when he does not vote to raise active-duty pay or provide our warriors with the tools they need to accomplish their critical missions,” said Pompeo, a West Point graduate who attended Harvard Law School with Cruz.
South Carolina is defense-heavy, with eight military bases, several military colleges and tens of thousands of retired military personnel.
Loren Thompson, a defense expert and chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., think tank, said in an interview, “Cruz’s votes against the NDAA (defense authorization bill) demonstrates the dominance of an obscure domestic issue over defense. It’s a civil liberties issue, and the vote was consciously cast to appeal to the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.”
The Winthrop Poll, conducted by Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., in December found that terrorism is the No. 1 issue for GOP voters in the Palmetto State.
“The threat of terrorism stands out as the most important issue for likely Republican voters,” the poll concluded.
Cruz was elected in 2012 as a favorite of the tea party. Tea party supporters often share libertarian concerns about intrusive federal power.
Bob Armstrong, 47, of Summerville, S.C., who served in the Navy for 12 years and now works for a defense contractor, said he believes Cruz’s explanation for his votes – that he opposes the current administration’s handling of the military.
“They want to put additional money into a broken system, and he knows that’s not the way to handle it,” said Armstrong, who attended a Cruz event at the USS Yorktown, which is stationed in Mount Pleasant, S.C.
“He’s focused, he’s smart and he wants a limited government. That’s what I want,” Armstrong said. “He doesn’t want to pour money down a hole, he wants to do it the right way.”