Cruz likely to strengthen pro-embargo forces in Congress
Rafael “Ted” Cruz, the Tea Party-backed Texas Republican likely to win a seat in the Senate, would boost Congressional support for the U.S. embargo against Cuba..
“He’s super, super solid,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL), a leader of the pro-embargo lawmakers. “He’s a freedom fighter.”
Like fellow Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the 41-year-old Cruz made his family history part of his campaign strategy.
“When my Dad came to Austin in 1957 as a teenage immigrant from Cuba bound for the University of Texas, he spoke no English and had $110 sewn into his underwear,” Cruz said at a campaign stop this summer. “He worked his way through school as a dishwasher making 50 cents an hour.”
His father was at first a supporter of Fidel Castro, and was jailed and tortured by former dictator Fulgencio Batista’s government. But later the elder Cruz opposed Castro “when he discovered he was a communist,” said the politician, who was born in Canada and whose mother is American-born.
Cruz beat mainstream Republican David Dewhurst in an August runoff and is expected to defeat the Democratic candidate, Paul Sadler in the Nov. 6 general election.
A former Texas solicitor-general who won a key gun rights case, Cruz has never held an elected post. But he did secure the endorsements of former VP candidate Sarah Palin as well as Tea Party leaders in Congress.
Other help came from the influential, conservative Club for Growth, which spent $4 million on ads attacking Cruz’s rivals.
If elected, Cruz would be the third Cuban-American in the Senate, joining Rubio and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). There are also three Cuban-Americans in the House: Díaz-Balart, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ).
These Cuban-American lawmakers form a formidable, bipartisan group that has blocked any opening to Cuba in Congress.
Unlike the others, however, Cruz does not have a large exile constituency and hasn’t taken a hard line against Cuba during his campaign, even though he supports the embargo.
Instead, the Cruz platform centered on promises to slash taxes and shrink the reach of the federal government. “My number one priority is fighting to defend individual liberty and free-market principles,” Cruz said.
John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said Cruz’s presence in the Senate could prompt the development of a “Cuba Caucus” that may also include Democratic senators Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida, if he wins re-election.
But Kavulich said Cruz is likely to focus more on economic and social issues than his fellow exile lawmakers because that’s what helped him defeat his Republican rivals.
“He’ll be dragged into issues that relate to Cuba, but he won’t be that aggressive,” said Kavulich. One reason for that: Texas farmers and ports export U.S. agricultural commodities to Cuba.
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