Ted Cruz had a Miami homecoming Friday, even though the firebrand U.S. Senator is from Texas.
The son of a Cuban exile, Cruz was welcomed as a long-lost son by the Miami-Dade Republican Party at its Lincoln Day Dinner, an annual fundraiser he helped sell out and amp up by giving a note-less conservative stem-winder that criticized President Obama for everything from domestic spying to his “feckless and naïve foreign policy.”
But it was Cruz’s Cuban roots that made him like a Miami son.
“Like many people in this room, my dad was born in Cuba, in Matanzas,” Cruz said as he opened up, drawing applause from the 500 or so attendees.
When Cruz asked “everyone in this room who is an immigrant or the child of an immigrant, please stand up,” nearly everyone did. Miami-Dade is the only major urban county in the country where a majority of the GOP, 72 percent, is Hispanic, nearly all Cuban.
One of the few signs Cruz isn’t from Miami or Florida: He came onstage to the “Yellow Rose of Texas.” He also boasted about the San Antonio spurs NBA win over the Miami Heat, earning a few good natured boos.
A major difference between Cruz and the crowd: his Texas-conservative positions on immigration-reform are little tougher than those of many Miami-Dade Republicans, including his fellow U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio.
Rubio was a sponsor of the so-called “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill, which Cruz called “amnesty” because it seeks to provide a pathway to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.
“Amnesty – No. 1 – is profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants to the millions of men and women and children who waited in line years, sometimes decades,” Cruz said. “But No. 2: Amnesty inevitably encourages more illegal immigration.”
Rubio, out of town for the fundraiser, has said that the “system we have now is de facto amnesty.”
Cruz didn’t directly criticize Rubio and gave him a shout-out during his speech.
Earlier, in brief remarks to reporters, Cruz laid blame for the failure of comprehensive immigration reform at the feet of Democrats, whom he accused of having an all-or-nothing approach to the issue because they insist on a path to citizenship.
That stance conflicts sharply with what immigration reform supporters, such as Miami’s Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia, contend – that a version of the Senate bill would pass the House today if House Speaker John Boenher allowed an up-or-down vote.
Another Miami congressman intimately involved in immigration policy, Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, is still holding out hope that Boehner will schedule a vote.
But the speaker won’t yet, indicating that he wants a majority of the Republican caucus to say it’s ok. Time is running out, however, in this Congress.
A common tie between all the lawmakers: They’re Cuban-Americans. Along with Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, all the Senate’s Hispanic members are Cuban-Americans.
“It’s a point of pride,” said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera:
Added Nelson Diaz, the county’s GOP chair: “Cubans occupy three percent of the United States Senate – it’s extraordinary,” “Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are sons of this community.”
The Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, described the two men as two far right, saying in a written statement that Rubio “Marco Rubio gladly joined Ted Cruz in shutting down our government, hurting thousands of Florida workers, children, seniors, and veterans.”
But to the Miami-Dade Republicans, outnumbered in a Democratic-leaning county, they don’t hear enough from the likes of Rubio and Cruz.
Cruz earned loud support for bashing Common Core, the interstate educational standards effort that conservatives increasingly oppose as “Obama Core.” The county GOP opposed it in September, a slap at Miami resident and former Gov. Jeb Bush, a possible presidential candidate along with Rubio and Cruz.
The applause grew louder still when Cruz said “Mr. Maduro in Venezuela, free Leopoldo Lopez.”
And they rose to their feet when he nearly yelled: “And Mr. Castro, free the people of Cuba!”
He then kept the crowd by quoting his father, Rafael Cruz: “I lost my freedom once in Cuba. I’ll die before I let it happen again.”
It was another sign that Cruz, far from his home in Texas, was right at home in Miami.