ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – More than 1,100 staunch supporters welcomed U.S. Senator Ted Cruz with a standing ovation at Arlington Music Hall Tuesday night.
The freshman Senator, a darling of the Tea Party and grassroots conservatives, angered some Republicans on Capitol Hill when he led the fight to defund Obamacare.
He joked with the crowd about how he’s received in Washington these days.
“I got to say that reaction is exactly the reaction I get on the Senate floor,” Cruz told the raucous crowd.
Republican critics said he picked the wrong fight, and should have instead focused on cutting spending, the deficit, and debt.
In an exclusive interview earlier Tuesday, Senator Cruz disagreed.
“If you want to deal with spending, if you want to deal with the deficit, deal with the debt,” Cruz said. “You have to deal with Obamacare, because if we get economic growth back, all of those problems are dealt with. If economic growth remains anemic, we can’t turn around spending, the deficit, and the debt. It all comes back to jobs and economic growth. And my number-one priority everyday in the Senate is fighting to restore jobs and economic growth because that’s the top priority of Texans.”
Senator Cruz said he is fighting for the 26 million Texans he represents.
I asked him at some point if he will reach out to moderate Republicans, Independents, and Democrats to win the larger argument instead of just talking with his base of loyal supporters.
“We are hearing support and encouragement from Texans all over the state, every region of the state, from Texans who are Republicans, Independents, and Democrats,” Cruz said. “You know it’s only in Washington, DC, where the battles are drawn the way they are.”
I asked Senator Cruz if he needed to start winning the battles for him to stay relevant.
“Look at the end of the day, it’s not about any one politician,” Cruz said.
During a follow-up question, I asked the senator, if he can’t win battles, how is that people are going to want to follow him.
“One of the classic strategies of Washington we’ve seen employed by those trying to defend Obamacare is to change the subject and to launch personal attacks,” Cruz said. “A lot have gotten pretty nasty, and to try to change the topic because a lot of people in the press love to cover politics like it’s a Hollywood gossip column.”
The senator said he will continue to fight against President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. While Cruz favors repealing Obamacare, he said there still needs to be health reform.
“The reform I’d like to see is number one: allowing the interstate purchase of health insurance, so we have a 50-state national market,” Cruz said “What that would do is create low-cost, affordable, catastrophic policies. The biggest barrier to access is cost, and what does Obamacare do? It drives costs up. We need to be driving costs down so people can afford healthcare.”
During our interview, Senator Cruz spoke about the threats made against him and his family on Twitter that are now being investigated by the FBI and Capitol Police.
“Unfortunately, there one people who will resort to violent threats, will resort to insults, and personal attacks,” Cruz said. “I got to tell you, from my perspective, that’s unfortunate. But I think it’s also the product of how we’re corroding civility in public discourse, just how vicious and nasty the political attacks are.”
I asked Mr. Cruz if he and his family are receiving protection at home.
“It’s a concern that law enforcement is dealing with,” Cruz said. “But at the end of the day, I’ll tell you both for me and my family, we feel incredibly privileged to have the chance to serve.”
Senator Cruz is traveling to Iowa again this week, and has already visited other key primary states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina as well, raising speculation he’ll run for president in 2016.
At one point, many in the standing room only crowd in Arlington Tuesday night chanted, “2016.”
But Cruz insisted his “focus is entirely on the U.S. Senate. The Senate is where the battleground is.”
I asked why he needed to go to the three early states that have key primaries.
“Well, in the ten months I’ve been in the Senate, we’ve done 73 events all over the state of Texas,” Cruz said. “We’ve also been to 13 other states. The way we win the fight is to energize the grassroots.”
It’s a national fight Cruz acknowledges won’t be easy to win.
He says what needs to happen first is, “Republicans have to unite. The reason that didn’t happen here is you have Senate Republicans actively leading the fight against House Republicans. You’re not going to get any red-state Democrats to come out when Senate Republicans are opposing the whole deal.”
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