WASHINGTON — Reprising a familiar theme from his abandoned presidential campaign, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz convened a subcommittee hearing Tuesday in which he repeatedly charged that the Obama administration is "willfully blind" to the root of terrorism in the United States.
As chairman of the Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cruz gaveled in an afternoon hearing that included a lineup of experts who both defended the administration's anti-terrorism tactics and harshly criticized the current counterterrorism strategies. Cruz repeatedly charged the administration was engaged in "Orwellian" internal censorship for fear of offending the Islamic community.
"Does anyone notice a trend here?" asked the junior senator from Texas. "A consistent effort by this administration to scrub any reference to radical Islamic terrorism, to pretend that the threat does not exist ... the consequence of the willful blindness, of a policy that as a matter of administration policy refuses to acknowledge the threat, means over and over again this administration has allowed the threats to go forward."
"We cannot combat and defeat radical Islamic terrorism without acknowledging it exists and directing our resources to stopping it," he later added.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a committee member and former GOP presidential rival of Cruz's, concurred to an extent, while also praising the heroics of Muslim soldiers loyal to the United States.
"When you have centers of radical activity, I don’t want us to get so politically correct, and that’s the whole purpose of this hearing, is that we ignore the obvious," said the South Carolina Republican.
Most Democrats on the panel were unimpressed with Cruz's showing. Two Democrats, U.S. Senate Assistant Minority Leader Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, alluded to a Cruz position from his failed presidential campaign that they argued would damage the American way of life.
As Brussels reeled from a terrorist attack back in March, Cruz called to "empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized."
Durbin mocked the notion that there are Muslim bastions around the country, on par with old Irish Catholic parishes in his home state of Illinois.
"The Muslim population is not that large, per se, and they seem to be dispersed," said the second-ranking Senate Democrat. "And when we talk about patrolling and enforcing Muslim neighborhoods, as one member of this panel has, I'm at a loss."
"What was he trying to say?" Durbin asked. "What is a Muslim neighborhood?"
Coons called the notion, along with several of the policies of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump "profoundly unhelpful as we try to respect America’s constitutional traditions and keep our country safe."
He also questioned Cruz's message of the day.
"I frankly think whether you call it radical Islam, radical Islamism, Islamic extremism, and spending three hours arguing about these semantics, in my view, hasn’t really moved us any closer towards developing new and more effective ways to combat terror and to defeat ISIS," Coons said.
Cruz responded: "This isn’t a question of semantics. This is a question of whether the administration is willing to acknowledge what the threat is and willing to act to prevent acts of murder and terrorism before they occur."