STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Senator Ted Cruz is in a competition of ideas - ideas to protect America from ISIS.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The Republican presidential candidate is one of many talking of the terrorist threat after last week's attack in California. And he is one of several who have recently spoken of excluding Muslim refugees from certain countries.
INSKEEP: This week, his friendly rival, Donald Trump, dramatically raised the stakes, proposing to keep out all Muslims. All this led to a bottom-line question when Senator Cruz visited our studios.
Which Muslims do you want to keep out of the United States?
TED CRUZ: Well, I'm not sure that's the way I would put the question. What I would say is what is the obligation of the president and commander in chief? And the first obligation is to keep this country safe.
INSKEEP: The Texas senator wore a white shirt and orange tie. He was on his way to work in Washington. Cruz introduced legislation after the recent attacks in Paris. His bill would make it even harder than it is for refugees to reach the U.S. from five war-torn countries. Cruz says the few exceptions would include non-Muslims who are persecuted.
CRUZ: President Obama and Hillary Clinton's plan to bring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to America when the FBI says they cannot ascertain if these refugees are ISIS terrorists or not - that makes no sense.
INSKEEP: I've had a look at your legislation. It specifies some countries - Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen. Other countries could be added by the government over time. But I have to note, you're looking at refugees, not broadly people entering the United States, including by easier pass. You're not bringing up Pakistan, which is where one of the San Bernardino attackers came from. You're not bringing up Brussels, which is where some of the Paris attackers came from. Why not?
CRUZ: There is no doubt that we need broader reforms. And unfortunately, if you look at Europe, the problem of terrorism is definitely growing there because of many of these waves of refugees that have flowed into Europe. But the immediate threat we have is ISIS.
INSKEEP: But can't someone ask you why would you focus on refugees who tend to be fleeing a situation and leave alone - at least for the moment - all these other roots and all other kinds of people who actually have proven in a few cases to be dangerous?
CRUZ: Because if you look at, for example, the Paris terrorists, we know that at least one of them came in among the refugees. Look, do we - look - need to oppose stronger background checks and security checks on immigration more generally in an age of terror? Absolutely. If you look at the wife among the San Bernardino terrorists, she came on a fiance visa. And yet the background check of the vetting didn't catch that.
INSKEEP: Is there a bigger cultural concern that you're actually speaking to on some level here, Senator, the concern among some in America that there are just too many Muslims coming and that they're culturally inappropriate for the United States?
CRUZ: Look, I can't speak for what concerns you might have or others have. My concern is keeping America safe. And we need a commander in chief whose single-minded focus is protecting this nation. You know, President Obama gave a speech in which he never once uttered the words radical Islamic terrorism. Now, why is that? Because he never utters the word. It is a policy throughout the administration that you cannot acknowledge the evil we face. And in fact...
INSKEEP: He did talk about terrorism, if I might, and talked about extreme beliefs among Muslims.
CRUZ: But this is important. Yes, he talks about terrorism writ large, but he doesn't acknowledge radical Islamic terrorism. It is a particular threat, and he treats it - indeed, I was at the prayer breakfast where - the National Prayer Breakfast. He said, you know what? Christians and Jews have done bad things, too. Look at the Crusades. Look at the Inquisition.
INSKEEP: Isn't he just trying to make sure that he's not singling out Muslims who may be loyal Americans?
CRUZ: Baloney - that argument is exactly the argument ISIS uses.
INSKEEP: Has Donald Trump effectively outbid you here, Senator, because he's calling to block all Muslims from coming to the United States, which would eliminate any potential Muslim who might be a threat?
CRUZ: Well, I disagree with Donald on that. He is welcome to discuss his policy ideas that - that is not my view of how we should approach it. My view is we should focus very directly on the threat, which is radical Islamic terrorism. And Islamism, you...
INSKEEP: So you're fine if plenty of Muslims come by other routes other than what your legislation deals with - you're perfectly comfortable with that.
CRUZ: There are millions of peaceful Muslims in the world. There are millions of peaceful Muslims in America. This is not about the Islamic faith.
INSKEEP: You said in the last few days regarding ISIS you want to carpet bomb them into oblivion. You made a reference to making sand glow. When I hear carpet bombing, I think flattening cities. Is that what you want? Do you want to flatten the city of Raqqa, for example?
CRUZ: I think we need to use every military tool at our disposal to defeat ISIS.
INSKEEP: You can flatten a city. Do you want to do that?
CRUZ: The problem with what President Obama is doing is he has not set out the objective of destroying ISIS. And he is not implementing any military means to do so. You know, last year, we had a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee on which I serve, and the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs were testifying. And I asked them both - I said if the object were to utterly destroy ISIS, in your military judgment, what would be required to accomplish that task? And his answer - he said there is no military solution to this problem. The only way to fix it is to change the underlying conditions, the poverty that drives people to radicalism.
INSKEEP: That's what they found out in Iraq, wasn't it?
CRUZ: No, and with - and as I said afterwards, with all respect, that is utter nonsense. The solution to this problem isn't expanded Medicaid in Iraq. You know, the State's Department...
INSKEEP: But let's see...
CRUZ: ...Spokesperson said the response to terrorism is we need to give them jobs. You know what? In the 1940s, FDR didn't stand up and say the problem is the poverty in Germany and we need to help the Germans, not support the Nazis - no. The object...
INSKEEP: Well, help me, though. FDR carpet bombed cities. Is that what you want to do? Is that what you think the solution is to this problem?
CRUZ: I want to carpet bomb ISIS. Now, when you say carpet bomb cities, look, no - no reasonable military endeavor targets civilians. Now, inevitably, in war there are inadvertent collateral casualties. But no responsible military action targets civilians. But let me give you a sense...
INSKEEP: But don't you then end up with the air campaign they already have...
INSKEEP: ...Where they're being exceedingly careful...
INSKEEP: ...Not the civilians but they hit target when they can find a target?
CRUZ: No, you don't, Steve, and let's go to some facts. In the first Persian Gulf War, we launched roughly 1,100 air attacks a day. We carpet bombed them into oblivion for 37 days.
INSKEEP: There was a conventional army to strike.
CRUZ: One thousand one hundred air attacks a day. At the end of 37 days of that, our troops went in and in 36 hours mopped up the entire Iraqi army.
INSKEEP: OK, troops going into Syria.
CRUZ: Right now today, President Obama is launching between 15 and 30 air attacks a day - 1,100 in first Persian Gulf War - 15 to 30 today. What we're seeing is photo op foreign policy. We see a missile here, a bomb there, looks good on CNN. This is nonsense. This is not a strategy of a serious commander in chief.
INSKEEP: That's some of our talk with Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. We also asked about climate change and our talk on that is at npr.org and elsewhere in today's program, which is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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