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Ted Cruz: I'm No Back Bencher, but Obama Was

On his second official day as a presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz sat down with the Tribune's Jay Root for a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview that touched on global warming, marijuana legalization and his use of email.

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*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

On his second official day as a presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz sat down with The Texas Tribune's Jay Root for a wide-ranging, one-on-one interview that touched on global warming, marijuana legalization and his use of email. 

The Texas Republican also answered frequent charges that he is no more experienced for the office than then-Sen. Barack Obama was circa 2008. Cruz described Obama as a “back bencher” in the Senate who “did not take a leadership role on really issues of any significance.”

"You can accuse me of a lot of faults, but being a back bencher is not one of them," said Cruz, who was at the center of the 2013 government shutdown. 

Cruz also indicated that his prior public service was more substantive than Obama's.

"Unlike Barack Obama, before I was in the Senate, I wasn’t a community organizer," he said. "I spent five and a half years as the solicitor general" of Texas.

In a separate CNN interview on Tuesday, Cruz said he would sign up for health care under the Affordable Health Care Act. He said his family will likely sign up for a new insurance policy through the U.S. Senate, which is part of the federal exchange. 

Even so, Cruz had harsh words for the law, and pointed to it as a means for him to engage young voters. 

“It is a massive wealth transfer from young, healthy people to everybody else," Cruz said. 

The media blitz came just a day after Cruz declared his candidacy for the presidency on Monday morning at the socially conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. 

The presidential candidate was bullish on the first 36 hours of his campaign, saying during the Tribune interview that the operation's fundraising "shattered expectations." He declined to say how much the organization had raised so far, but praised his digital team. 

"One of the nice things, I was glad to see that our IT team put up a website that could withstand the incredible traffic," he said. 

Cruz was critical of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of personal email during her Cabinet tenure, a position he has taken in previous public statements. He indicated that he does not have an official government email address, but argued it was an apples-to-oranges comparison to Clinton because of the political nature of serving in the Senate. 

"I use my personal email, but the difference is, members of Congress are not required to use government email … and there’s a reason for the distinction that is not artificial, which is they’re elected political officials." 

"If the law required it, I would comply with it," he added. "I think it’s a fair question and fair debate to have.” 

On the issue of marijuana legalization, Cruz put a premium on states' rights over his personal views.  

"I don’t support drug legalization, but I do support the Constitution," he said. "I think individual states can choose to adopt it. So if Texas had it on the ballot, I’d vote against it, but I respect the authority of states to follow different policies." 

Cruz made a similar argument about gay marriage. 

"If you can convince your fellow citizens that it’s good for the families, it's good for the state of Texas to change its marriage laws, then Texas has the constitutional power to do so," he said on gay marriage legalization. "But it is not legitimate for an unelected federal judge to impose his or her policy preferences because they disagree with the citizens of the state of Texas."

Cruz joked about Root's line of questioning, calling it "interesting party priorities."

"You’ve been in Travis County for awhile, so gay marriage and pot are the pressing issues of the day," he teased. 

But on global warming, Cruz was unmitigated in his argument against the credibility of environmental advocates concerned about the issue.  

"I am the child of two mathematicians and scientists. I believe in following evidence and data," he said. "On the global warming alarmists, anyone who actually points to the evidence that disproves their apocalyptical claims, they don’t engage in reasoned debate."

"What do they do? They scream, ‘You’re a denier.' They brand you a heretic," he added. "Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-earthers." 

NASA states that 97 percent of scientists "agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities." 

Meanwhile, in Houston on Tuesday, the other likely Texas presidential candidate, former Gov. Rick Perry, did not seem interested in addressing Cruz's candidacy. As he left an event, Perry was silent as reporters peppered him with questions about Cruz, posing for photos with a few attendees while an aide repeated he would not be speaking with the media. 

In an interview later Tuesday, Perry provided his go-to response to questions about Cruz's presidential ambitions, wondering aloud whether Americans want another "young, inexperienced United States senator" after the Obama years. Speaking on Bloomberg Politics' "With All Due Respect," Perry also painted the contrast in terms of his military service.

"Do you want a grizzled 20,000-hour captain in the left seat of the airplane that's done this thousands of times?" Perry said. "Or do you want a really bright, capable, exciting lecture that will have you on the edge of your seat in a classroom talking about aerodynamics and how an airplane flies and how all of this works?"

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report. 

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