Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said Monday he does not support banning all Muslims from entering the country, distancing himself from an inflammatory proposal by rival Donald Trump.
Earlier Monday, the billionaire frontrunner for the GOP nomination called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." Cruz weighed in on the proposal while campaigning in South Carolina, where he was asked if he would support a policy barring Muslims from coming into the United States.
"No, that is not my policy," the Texas senator told reporters. "I believe the focus should focus on radical Islamic terrorism, and we need to be directly focused on threats to the United States. We need a commander in chief that perceives what the threat is and that targets all of our resources to protecting this nation against radical Islamic terrorism."
Cruz, who has made a point of not criticizing Trump, stopped short of condemning his proposal, as some in the GOP field swiftly did Monday afternoon. Asked if he had concerns about GOP rhetoric against Muslim Americans, Cruz denied the sentiment was broad.
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"I don't believe most Americans are using language against Muslim Americans," Cruz told reporters. "We're using language against radical Islamic terrorists."
Reminded that Trump's language has focused on Muslim Americans, Cruz replied, "I'm going to focus on the language I use."
Cruz has proposed legislation that would immediately prohibit refugees from entering the United States from countries, including Iraq and Syria, that are "substantially controlled by a foreign terrorist organization," according to his office. He plans to discuss that bill, known as the Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act of 2015, in a news conference with Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
Trump's proposal came hours after a new poll showed Cruz beating the billionaire for the first time in Iowa, leading him 24 percent to 19 percent in the first-in-the-country caucus state. Another poll released later Monday found Trump still has a healthy advantage over Cruz in the Hawkeye State.