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United States & World

Sen. Ted Cruz Faces Backlash For His Role In Capitol Violence

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Texas Senator Ted Cruz played a key role in amplifying the false voter fraud claims that drove people to overrun the U.S. Capitol, but he denies any responsibility and aims the blame solely at President Trump. Like Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, Cruz is courting Trump's voters ahead of a possible presidential bid. From member station KERA in Dallas, Bret Jaspers reports on the blowback Cruz faces back at home.

BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: President Trump has continuously lied about widespread voter fraud. He's lost dozens of court cases attempting to overthrow November's election. Among those who have helped amplify those false claims is Ted Cruz. Here he is in Georgia about a week ago, campaigning for fellow Republican senators.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED CRUZ: Are they going to try to steal? Yes, but I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to win by a big enough margin. Ain't nobody stealing the state of Georgia.

JASPERS: Days later, Cruz objected to the ceremonial counting of Electoral College votes. And then after the mob surged into the Capitol, Cruz told TV station KHOU he wasn't responsible for the escalation - not even, quote, "remotely."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRUZ: I think the president's rhetoric was irresponsible. I think it was reckless. And I don't think it was remotely helpful.

JASPERS: But Cruz is taking heat. At least two Democrats in the U.S. Senate and several in Texas have called for his resignation, as have editorial boards of some major newspapers. He says he's not going anywhere. Disgust with his actions has come from his own party, too. Cruz's former chief of staff, Chip Roy, is now a GOP congressman from south central Texas. He didn't mention Cruz by name, but here's Roy after the riot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHIP ROY: I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and I will not bend its words into contortions for personal political expediency.

JASPERS: Utah Senator Mitt Romney said those who objected to the vote counting will be considered complicit in the attack, but it's uncertain whether a real price will be paid by Cruz, who isn't new to pushing at the seams of American government. In his first year as senator in 2013, he encouraged hard-line tactics that led to a government shutdown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRUZ: I rise in opposition to this deal that does not serve the best interest of the men and women each of us represent.

JASPERS: It was a doomed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Cruz later denied responsibility for the shutdown. Some of Cruz's language and tactics are part of a larger pattern from Republicans to undermine faith in elections, says Jim Henson of the University of Texas at Austin.

JIM HENSON: Republicans in Texas have spent the better part of the last two decades claiming that elections in Texas were subject to fraud, abuse and dishonesty, you know, without presenting any real evidence that this was happening on a scale that merited the fear that they were cultivating among their voters.

JASPERS: Henson says Cruz is popular with far-right Republicans in Texas, a large group, even as the state gets more centrist. Most of the state's Republican U.S. House members still voted to object to the electoral vote counting even after the insurrection. And if Trump leaves office saddled with the blame, that'll be better for Cruz's second run at the presidency, Henson says.

HENSON: It is not in Cruz's interest for Trump to stay on the stage.

JASPERS: Cruz's Senate office didn't respond to an interview request. The Texas Democratic Party vows not to let the Capitol riot fade from the public's image of Cruz. Gilberto Hinojosa is chairman.

GILBERTO HINOJOSA: You will continue to see him do these kinds of things. And every single time he does, we will remind people that this man's ambitions cause him not to act in their interests but only in his interest.

JASPERS: And Cruz's quest for the White House doesn't mean he sacrifices his Senate seat in 2024 when he's up for reelection. Texas law allows him to simultaneously be on the ballot for both jobs.

For NPR News, I'm Bret Jaspers in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.