Ted Cruz's innuendoes about Chuck Hagel go too far

2013-02-15T00:00:00Z Ted Cruz's innuendoes about Chuck Hagel go too farRuth Marcus Washington Post Writers Group Arizona Daily Star
February 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Ted Cruz is not going to win Senator Congeniality. Not that he cares. The newly arrived Texas Republican has come out, well, guns blazing - and not just on guns.

The traditional stance for a freshman senator is to hold back a bit. Being reticent and deferential are not qualities that come naturally to those who manage to win Senate seats, but most new senators choose, as much as it clashes with their instincts, to tamp down.

Not Cruz.

Since being sworn in less than two months ago, the 42-year-old tea-party darling has:

• Been one of three senators to vote against confirming Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state.

• Expressed "deep concerns" with a bipartisan immigration-reform blueprint crafted by, among others, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

• Introduced his first bill, to "repeal every last word of Obamacare."

Most notably, Cruz - a Princeton debating champion, Harvard Law School graduate, law clerk to the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Texas solicitor general - trained his formidable rhetorical skills on two targets: gun control proposals and President Obama's nominee for defense secretary, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican.

Yet he has rankled even Republican colleagues, who think he lectures too much at private party sessions - "pontificates" is one word used - and listens too little, especially for a newbie.

Cruz was elected by the people of Texas, who knew what they were getting when they picked him over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the choice of the GOP establishment. That's democracy.

But with his latest attack on Hagel, Cruz has gone too far. Cruz has every right - indeed, he has an obligation - to question Hagel vigorously. He has a right to demand relevant information. He has a right to vote against Hagel; indeed Republicans are now filibustering the nomination.

But Cruz doesn't have the right to smear Hagel, with no supporting evidence, with insinuations that the nominee received money from foreign governments or extremist groups.

"We do not know, for example, if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups," Cruz told the Senate Armed Services Committee before it voted Tuesday to approve Hagel's nomination. "It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea."

The "only reasonable inference" to draw from Hagel's refusal to provide additional financial information, he said, is "there was something in there that they did not want to make public."

As the committee chairman, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, pointed out, Cruz was attempting to unilaterally rewrite committee rules, which require two years of financial information, instead of the five Cruz demanded.

And Cruz's sleazy innuendos about hidden foreign money are undercut by a separate requirement to disclose any transactions with a foreign government - going back 10 years.

In an emailed answer to questions, Cruz said: "There is long precedent for viewing the committee's requirements as a floor, not a ceiling. If a nominee is controversial, as Senator Hagel is, senators are fully entitled to request additional information." And, he said, "comity is important, but comity does not mean avoiding the truth concerning a nominee's policy record."

Yes, senators can demand, although they ought to have a stronger predicate than sheer dirt-digging.

Where Cruz truly crossed the line, though, was in insinuating - with no proof whatsoever - that Hagel has something to hide.

To use Cruz's logic: What reasonable inference is there to draw about this brash new senator? That there's little he won't do in pursuit of his prey.

Email Ruth Marcus at ruthmarcus@washpost.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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