DES MOINES, Iowa — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has recently taken to commending Republican presidential rival Donald Trump for getting the media to finally pay attention to the problem of illegal immigration.
And that's exactly what reporters did Friday as the Texas Republican embarked on a rite of passage for any White House hopeful: the overwhelming gauntlet of towering TV cameras, eager selfie-seekers and hurried aides that is the Iowa State Fair.
Speaking with reporters before working his way down the fair's main drag, Cruz fielded questions almost exclusively related to Trump and his plan to curb illegal immigration, a blueprint that has refocused the border policy debate on hot-button issues such as whether to end birthright citizenship, which guarantees citizenship to those born in the United States, even if their parents are in the country illegally.
Some Republicans have deemed such children "anchor babies," a term seen as offensive, especially among Democrats eager to paint their GOP rivals as out of touch with a key voting bloc. On Friday, Cruz swatted away a string of questions about whether he found the label objectionable, saying what's truly objectionable is an unsecured border.
"I think we need to stop this politically correct nonsense," Cruz told reporters. "We need to speak candidly about the problems facing this country."
"There's nothing that the press likes more than some sideshow on some politically correct debate," he later added. "Who cares?"
Cruz also took on the suggestion made this week by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that Cruz was among the GOP candidates who benefited from birthright citizenship. Cruz was born in Canada as the son of a Cuban immigrant father and U.S.-born mother.
"I appreciate Gov. Bush's concern," Cruz told reporters with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "It seems he's having a problem and getting confused between legal immigration and illegal immigration.
"With regard to legal citizens, I am a United States citizen because my mother was a United States citizen, born in Wilmington, Delaware, and it has been the law since the beginning of the country that the children of American citizens born here or abroad are American citizens by birth," Cruz added. "It seems Gov. Bush has that confused with the very different notion that someone who comes here illegally should not have the law grant automatic citizenship to their children if they are here illegally."
Like Trump, Cruz wants to end birthright citizenship, either through legislation or a change to the Constitution. In a radio interview broadcast from the fair, Cruz admitted it's an "open legal question" as to which way would be most successful, but stressed that "whichever legal tool is effective, we ought to get it done."
Cruz does not agree with every part of Trump's immigration plan. While Trump wants to put new restrictions on the number of visas for highly skilled workers, Cruz has proposed increasing the number by 500 percent, an idea he generally defended Friday while speaking with reporters.
"When it comes to high-skilled workers, when it comes to engineers and mathematicians and computers programmers, I think we should be welcoming the best and the brightest because they create jobs, they come here and start businesses," Cruz said.
It was not the last time Cruz was asked to weigh in on Trump's proposals Friday. He was peppered with questions about the billionaire's immigration plan as he made his way to the fair's famous pork chop grills, where he was pressed about his past skepticism of ending birthright citizenship. Cruz maintained his position has been consistent over the years.
Cruz's appetite for questions on Trump and immigration nonetheless had its limits. Asked later Friday if he had any plans to tour the border with Trump, Cruz turned his attention back to the slab of meat sizzling in front of him. "I'm going to focus on the pork right now," he said.