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WASHINGTON — In the event there was any doubt, there remains little daylight between President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on the COVID-19 pandemic and the performance of U.S. Attorney General William Barr.
In a Texas Tribune Festival interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that aired Friday, Cruz suggested questions about the president's leadership during the pandemic were rooted in politics and not the growing national death count. And as many legal scholars are raising concern about Barr's stewardship of the Justice Department, Cruz said Barr has done an "admirable job of staying faithful to the rule of the law."
In the interview, Cruz relayed the stresses many Texas households are feeling as he described how he and his wife work mostly from home while his daughters engage in distance learning.
But the conversation shifted to an open policy dispute between Trump and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Redfield testified under oath in a Wednesday congressional hearing that masks could prove better at combating the COVID-19 virus than a vaccine and that the general public should plan for a summer 2021 distribution of any vaccine at the earliest.
Trump contradicted Redfield's statements on both fronts this week, calling the scientist he appointed to that post "confused" and having "misunderstood" the efficacy of masks and the timeline of when a vaccine can be safely approved and distributed to the public.
Leading scientists across the board strongly recommend wearing masks as a means to mitigate the spread of the lethal virus, and the exchanges between Trump and Redfield have unnerved many scientific experts.
But Cruz portrayed the matter as a bad-faith political controversy.
"The president has long said things that I don't agree with, and I can't control what he says and what he doesn't say," Cruz said. "That being said, it's not lost on anyone that we're 47 days out from a presidential election, and in this context every every word that everyone utters is viewed through the political lens and ... whatever the president says is used by his political enemies to attack him.
"That's not complicated," he added. "I do think the president, the administration, their response to this crisis, I think they've taken serious and, in many instances, extraordinary steps."
The United States surpassed 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths this week.
Cruz also praised Trump's top law enforcement officer, Barr, with similar language. On Wednesday night, Barr said Black Americans killed while in police protection were "props," adding that "a small number of Blacks were killed by police during conflict with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda."
Barr also framed government coronavirus restrictions as "the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history."
Tapper pressed Cruz specifically on Barr's statements asserting his right as attorney general to hands-on control over career attorneys and investigations within the department.
"Attorney General Barr has done an extraordinary job, and I think he's done an incredibly difficult job," Cruz said.
He then shifted the conversation to blaming the Obama administration for what he perceived as a partisan Justice Department.
"[Barr] took it knowing that the entire world would rain down attacks on him, and I think he took it because he wanted to vindicate the rule of law and help bring the Department of Justice back, and I think he has," Cruz said.
At the same time, another Texas delegation member, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, criticized Barr's comments on Black Lives Matter in a separate Texas Tribune Festival interview.
"As a Black man and as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, I find those comments to be insulting," he said. "I think it's beneath the dignity of that office. [He's] someone in the position of trying to bring the country together around positive reforms that we can do to restore confidence between our police and and our communities of color, and there needs to be a restoration, and to pretend like there's not a problem or to pretend like there's no need for action is only going to deepen the problem."
Later in the Cruz interview, Tapper pressed him on the propriety of a recent tweet from the U.S. senator joking that liberal men lack testicles.
"A fair point. Many liberal males never grow balls...." Cruz wrote on Sept. 11, in response to comments from Comedy Central host Trevor Noah calling for an end to gender reveal parties.
Cruz called the tweet "smart aleck" and said the discourse around gender of late "has gotten really nutty."
"I try to be engaged," he said of his twitter practices. "I try to have a sense of humor. I try to make points that are notable because it is a way to influence the discussion. And it's a way also to reach people. Too many Republicans are stuffed suits, and they talk like accountants, and they're boring and they just go on Fox News all day long."
Cruz said humor is a way to engage in public discourse.
"It is about the point about Noah's comment that we don't know if babies when they're born are girls or boys," Cruz said. "That's pretty loopy, and it needed to have some humor responded to it because it's being treated as this dogma."