Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks about events in Brussels on Tuesday near the Capitol in Washington. AP/Jacquelyn Martin
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Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks to the media about events in Brussels, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, near the Capitol in Washington. Cruz said he would use the "full force and fury" of the U.S. military to defeat the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

With explosions in Brussels, debate over religious liberty takes a different turn

Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks about events in Brussels on Tuesday near the Capitol in Washington. AP/Jacquelyn Martin
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Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks to the media about events in Brussels, Tuesday, March 22, 2016, near the Capitol in Washington. Cruz said he would use the "full force and fury" of the U.S. military to defeat the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks about events in Brussels on Tuesday near the Capitol in Washington. AP/Jacquelyn Martin

Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks about events in Brussels on Tuesday near the Capitol in Washington. AP/Jacquelyn Martin

With hardware-spewing explosions in Brussels, a different kind of religious liberty debate erupted on Tuesday. From the Associated Press:

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s call for increased surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods following the deadly bombings in Brussels drew sharp rebukes from Muslim Americans and civil rights groups, who panned the Republican’s proposal as unconstitutional and counterproductive.logo-all

Cruz said Tuesday that law enforcement should be empowered to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Echoing earlier statements from rival Donald Trump, Cruz also said the U.S. should stop the flow of refugees from countries where the Islamic State militant group has a significant presence. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks at the Brussels airport and a subway station that killed dozens Tuesday and wounded many more.

….Speaking Tuesday afternoon in New York, Cruz praised the city’s police department’s former program of conducting surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods, called for its reinstatement and said it could be a model for police departments nationwide.

“New Yorkers want a safe and secure America,” Cruz said. “New Yorkers saw firsthand the tragic consequences of radical Islamic terrorism.”

Campaigning in Washington state, which votes on Saturday, Democrat Hillary Clinton targeted Trump’s endorsement of renewed waterboarding of suspects:

“This is about not only selecting a president, but also selecting a commander in chief,” Clinton said in Seattle as she condemned Trump by name and denounced his embrace of torture and hardline rhetoric aimed at Muslims. “The last thing we need is leaders who incite more fear.”

Trump, in turn, branded Clinton as “Incompetent Hillary” as he discussed her tenure as secretary of state. “Incompetent Hillary doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” the billionaire businessman said in an interview with Fox News. “She doesn’t have a clue.”

Clinton is to give a speech on terrorism at Stanford University in California today.

***

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton breezed to victory in Arizona last night, but their rivals won victories elsewhere. From the Washington Post:

Clinton’s roughly 20-point victory came despite voting glitches that appeared to affect Democratic voters more acutely than Republicans, who had submitted mail-in ballots at a higher rate than Democrats. The large margin is a blow to her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who had staked a comeback on Arizona.

Trump won by a decisive 24 percentage points over his nearest competitor, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). But Cruz defeated Trump in Utah and took all of the state’s 40 Republican delegates after winning more than 50 percent of the vote.

Sanders won handily in Utah and Idaho, but that may have done little to improve his overall standing in delegates against Clinton.

***

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed Ted Cruz for president this morning, a surprise announcement meant to bolster the Texas U.S. senator’s campaign against the surging Donald Trump.

Here’s a snippet from his Facebook endorsement:

“For the sake of our party and country, we must overcome the divisiveness and vulgarity Donald Trump has brought into the political arena or we will certainly lose our chance to defeat the Democratic nominee, most likely Hillary Clinton, this fall.”

***

Seldom has there been a more overt case of horse trading than what unfolded late Tuesday night in the state Capitol. Or, as Sen. Vincent Fort derisively dubbed it, simply “achieving a deal.”

Sen. Donzella James, who represents Atlanta and parts south, was the lone Democrat to join with Republicans voting for a controversial Judicial Qualifications Commission overhaul. A two-thirds majority was required for the proposed constitutional amendment, and the GOP task was made harder by the desertion of Sen. Josh McKoon, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As if on cue,  moments after HR 1113 passed, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle suddenly revived her long-stalled cityhood bill for South Fulton.

“She stuck with us,” said state Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, “now we’ll stick with her.”

Fort, an opponent of the cityhood effort, tried to block the legislation and suggested in no uncertain terms that James sold out her caucus for the measure. Cagle threatened to oust him from the Senate floor – the two briefly talked over each other — before both settled down and he called the vote.

James’ cityhood bill passed 42-10 as cheers peeled out from city supporters outside the chamber. Given that it needs a House vote, too, an actual city is unlikely to come from it. Fort, meanwhile, took to Twitter:

***

The sad part is that these are real paragraphs below, recounting a real event — a protest spurred by an “unexpected chalking” on the Emory University campus that featured the scrawled name of Donald Trump. From the Emory Wheel:

“I’m supposed to feel comfortable and safe [here],” one student said. “But this man is being supported by students on our campus and our administration shows that they, by their silence, support it as well … I don’t deserve to feel afraid at my school,” she added.

A short time later, students moved into the Henry L. Bowden Board Room, surrounding the long table that dominates its center, the students themselves surrounded by portraits of Emory University’s former presidents.

“What are we feeling?” Peraza asked those assembled. Responses of “frustration” and “fear” came from around the room, but individual students soon began to offer more detailed, personal reactions to feelings of racial tension that Trump and his ideology bring to the fore.

***

It’s a decidedly under-the-radar contest, but Republican operative Ginger Howard is quietly lining up support for her campaign to represent Georgia on the Republican National Committee.

She has the backing of former state GOP chair Sue Everhart and on Wednesday rolled out chairs for each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts. They include Martin Sullivan, a top aide to Savannah’s GOP mayor, and Roy Roberts, the Walton County Republican party chair.

***

A key member of the U.S. House tipped his hand to how Georgia’s big water-related interests could be handled — at least initially — in Congress this year.

Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, the chairman of the subcommittee tasked with funding the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Energy, said he plans to leave any language out of his upcoming spending bill that could tip the balance of power in Georgia’s ongoing water wars Florida and Alabama.

“All I can tell you is that I’m not going to get in the middle of a water war between states. I’m going to stay as far away from that as I can,” Simpson said in an interview off the House floor. “That’s something that needs to be handled with the states.”

The draft spending bill for federal water and energy programs for the budget year that begins in October will likely be rolled out this spring. It is, of course, the first of many steps before a final measure can ultimately be signed into law. It’s also highly unlikely anything will be finalized before the elections.

The big wildcard on the water wars front is Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who has kept his cards close to the vest since the Georgia delegation convinced Republican leaders to pull his water language out of last year’s final government funding bill.

***

As for Georgia’s other big ticket item, the Savannah Harbor expansion project, Simpson would not go into detail but did say the overall Army Corps of Engineers funding level in his spending bill “will probably be closer to last year’s than what the (White House’s) request was.”

The previous spending bill he was referring to provided $45.4 million for SHEP. That’s slightly more than the $42.7 million the White House recently proposed for the upcoming budget year. Since Congress is barred from earmarking money for specific projects, they’re somewhat limited in how much they can tinker beyond the president’s request.

Nearly every member of Georgia’s House delegation wrote to senior appropriators last week urging them to roughly double the funding level for SHEP compared to the Obama administration’s proposal in order to keep the project on track and on budget.

***

State Sen. Vincent Fort’s challenger just got a challenge. Jeff Sadiq, who qualified against the Atlanta Democratic incumbent for the May 24 primary, faces a claim that he does not live in the Senate district and is therefore ineligible.

The claim, submitted by resident Dianne Rogers, said “there is a complete absence of public record as to Mr. Sadiq’s residence.” Sadiq didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

***

House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams is trying to do her small part to ratchet up the pressure on the U.S. Senate on Tuesday to take up President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to join the U.S. Supreme Court. She’s written an open letter arguing that Garland deserves a “fair and expeditious hearing.” It includes this:

Our nation deserves a Supreme Court that has the ability to act with full membership. Therefore, I join my colleagues to urge the U.S. Senate to hold hearings on Judge Garland’s nomination and to #DoYourJob. Americans expect no less. 

Republicans sent their own message to Republican Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson on Tuesday.


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