OPINION

Nelson Balido: GOP Vegas debate reveals fault lines on security and immigration

In this Oct. 28, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, r-Texas, talks about the mainstream media during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo. Cruz says the U.S. adopt a European-style value added tax, adding to a division in the Republican presidential field. Some simply want to cut existing tax rates. But Cruz is among those who suggests scrapping the nation’s tax code entirely and starting from scratch.  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

In this Oct. 28, 2015, photo, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, r-Texas, talks about the mainstream media during the CNBC Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo. Cruz says the U.S. adopt a European-style value added tax, adding to a division in the Republican presidential field. Some simply want to cut existing tax rates. But Cruz is among those who suggests scrapping the nation’s tax code entirely and starting from scratch. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)  ((AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill))

The December 15 GOP primary debate was certainly an interesting evening. Donald Trump learned what the U.S. nuclear triad means; Ben Carson talked about Putin when he was asked about North Korea; and Jeb Bush had a hard time making it through a sentence without stumbling over his memorized lines.

In the aftermath of these and other low-lights, the pundits have piled on to express who they think “won” the night. Some publications have said Sen. Marco Rubio won. Were we watching the same debate? To my mind, the metric for winning should be accurate statements, and Sen. Rubio said a lot in Las Vegas that is just plain false. Two points are so glaring they need to be called out and clarified. 

1: Sen. Cruz’s vote for the USA Freedom Act made America less secure.

Nonsense. A little background: the Patriot Act, which authorized the federal government’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone metadata, expired on June 1, 2015. It had to be replaced, and it needed an upgrade. On June 2, we passed the USA Freedom Act, which reinstated many of the provisions of the Patriot Act but with two very important improvements. Sen. Cruz explained during the debate:

“Number one, it ended the federal government’s bulk collection of phone metadata of millions of law-abiding citizens. But number two, and the second half of it is critical, it strengthened the tools of national security and law enforcement to go after terrorists.”

Yet, Sen. Rubio just kept hammering away at his talking points—until Sen. Cruz laid out real facts and figures, at which point the Florida Senator intimated that classified information had been revealed. It hadn’t. Rubio’s knack for spin is a perfect example of how he, and quite a few other establishment candidates on the stage, are content with “politics as usual.”

2: Sen. Cruz will not rule out a path to legalization for the 11 million illegal residents in the United States.

Yes, he does. He said so in the debate, and then the campaign’s chair Chad Sweet reiterated it after the debate. Sen. Cruz’s 11-page immigration plan describes a thoughtful, strategic, constitutional approach to address America’s significant and crosscutting immigration challenges—and nowhere in that plan is there any whisper of amnesty.

Unlike Sen. Cruz’s direct responses, Sen. Rubio danced around the issue, eventually admitting (in a quiet tone of humility) that he does in fact support legalization for the 11 million people living in the United States illegally. It’s the same view that informed his work with the Gang of Eight and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer on crafting the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, which included a version of amnesty. The bill died on the Senate floor because the House, representing the will of the people, wouldn’t touch it. Yet, all of a sudden Sen. Rubio’s external polling numbers are telling him that his position is out-of-touch with conservative voters, and he is now trying to change his story. Too late!

A Time for Choosing

Every primary and nationwide poll has shown that this is an anti-establishment race. What the nation saw at the December debate was a finer delineation between Sens. Cruz and Rubio, and their remarks exemplify the larger discussion happening across the country.

Folks like President Obama, his heir apparent Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Rubio would like to dictate to Congress which laws the federal legislature will make. They also support overreaching domestic surveillance in the name of national security. Some voters seem to like this.

Meanwhile, leaders like Sen. Cruz are fighting for a balance between security and civil liberties. Amending the law to reflect the will of the people is a good thing (particularly when the amended law improves security and data gathering, as the USA Freedom Act does). The legal process that has served our nation well for centuries is as much the answer to the security-privacy debate as it is to immigration. 

Indeed, for Sen. Cruz, granting or not granting amnesty is not the president’s business. Laws are made and changed in Congress. To that point, Sen. Cruz’s plan for immigration and border security has one orienting principle (as, indeed, do all his platforms): Follow the law.

Section 4, Article 4 of the U.S. Constitution says that the federal government has an obligation to protect any state that requests it. The states along the southern border have been screaming for support for years, and the next president needs to follow the law and give the states the support and resources to which they are entitled in our republic.

At the same time, U.S. immigration law is perfectly clear on the standard for legal or illegal residency in the United States. If one is not born in the United States or to American parents, if one does not become naturalized, or if one’s visa expires and they remain, the law says they must be deported. It is deeply troubling to hear any politician pander to voters with sentiments that fly in the face of standing U.S. law. Troubling in part because it sends a confusing message to the border and law enforcement officers who swore an oath to uphold all U.S. laws.

There is a way to change federal law. The will of the people is represented in Congress, and it is through these representatives that we create the rules that govern our country. Perhaps at some point Congress will change the law — but in the meantime, the law is the law.

Sen. Cruz is offering real leadership, not because he is telling the people what they want to hear, no matter what the Constitution says, but because he is holding fast to what the Founding Fathers set down, even when it might be unpopular with the voting public. We are sure to see further differences of opinion and policy between Sens. Cruz and Rubio in the months ahead.

This is an important time for us as a nation. The decisions we make and votes we cast will impact the nature of our country for generations to come. Will we send another quasi-autocrat to the Oval Office? Or will we follow the Constitution and the law?

As President Reagan said, there is a time for choosing. And that time is now.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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