- President says surveillance of Muslims is `un-American'
- Notes Cruz's father, Rafael, fled a police state in Cuba
President Barack Obama on Wednesday offered unusually personal criticism of Senator Ted Cruz’s proposal to monitor Muslim communities, saying that the idea resembles police-state behavior in Cruz’s father’s native country, Cuba.
"I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance, which, by the way, the father of Senator Cruz escaped for America, the land of the free," Obama said Wednesday at a news conference in Buenos Aires with Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri.
Cruz’s father, Rafael, left Cuba in 1957 to attend college at the University of Texas, according to a biography on Ted Cruz’s Senate campaign website stored on the Internet Archive. The Atlantic magazine has called Rafael Cruz, a pastor, the senator’s "secret weapon" to win over conservative voters.
Republicans have escalated their criticism of Obama’s strategy to combat the Islamic State terrorist group in the wake of bombings in Brussels on Tuesday that killed at least 31 people. Obama has in turn bristled at suggestions that his strategy is insufficient, declaring on Wednesday that the militant group’s destruction is his top priority and calling Republican proposals folly, including an earlier Cruz suggestion that the U.S. carpet-bomb areas held by Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
“When I hear someone say we should carpet-bomb Iraq and Syria, not only is that inhumane, not only is that contrary to our values, but that would likely be an extra mechanism for ISIL to recruit more people willing to die and explode bombs in an airport or a metro station,” Obama said. “That’s not a smart strategy.”
Obama reserved particular derision for Cruz’s proposal on Tuesday that police “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” in the U.S. He said that Muslim communities in the U.S. are not a threat because they are largely integrated into American society.
"They do not feel ghetto-ized, they do not feel isolated. Their children are our children’s friends, going to the same schools. They are our colleagues in our workplaces, they are our men and women in uniform fighting for our freedom," Obama said. "Any approach that would single them out and target them for discrimination is not only wrong and un-American, but it would also be counterproductive.”
Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for the Cruz campaign, didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment. Cruz defended his call for more intense policing of Muslim neighborhoods in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg Politics managing editor Mark Halperin.
"When we have police in a community, it protects that community and keeps it safe and we need to stop pretending radical Islamic terrorism doesn’t exist and instead work to defeat it and keep this country safe," Cruz said.
Obama continued his trip to Cuba and Argentina on Tuesday following the attacks, saying that to cancel his appearance at a baseball game or cut his trip short would represent a concession to terrorists. Republicans including Trump and Ohio Governor John Kasich criticized the decision.
Later on Wednesday, Obama was asked at a town hall-style event with Argentinians about Cruz’s Republican primary competitor, billionaire Donald Trump, and the 2016 presidential campaign.
"Even if we end up with someone I might not consider a great president, there’s a limit to the damage they can do," he said.