Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential stump speech electrifies conservative crowds with a cocktail of growls, whispers, warnings of impending doom, and at least one claim of personal accomplishment so powerful, it often brings many in the audience to their feet.
“Just a few weeks ago, I was down in Fort Hood, where the soldiers who were shot by Nidal Hasan were finally, finally, finally awarded the Purple Heart,” Cruz told activists last weekend at the conservative Freedom Forum in Greenville, S.C. “I’ll tell you the reason those Purple Hearts were awarded. I was very proud last year to introduce legislation in the Senate to mandate that the Pentagon award those Purple Hearts.”
Cruz rightly pointed out that for years, the Obama administration had classified the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, by Army Major Nidal Hasan as a “workplace violence” incident rather than as a terrorist attack, though Hasan’s rampage came after he had been in contact with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. Hasan’s shooting spree left 13 dead and 32 wounded, including dozens of military personnel who were deemed ineligible for the Purple Heart because of the Pentagon’s classification of the attack as not combat-related.
At the end of 2014, Congress passed a bill requiring the Pentagon to reclassify the 2009 attack, and the Fort Hood victims were indeed awarded the Purple Heart.
But Cruz voted not once but twice against the Pentagon authorization bill that changed the Purple Heart policy. A Cruz spokesman told the Dallas Morning News that Cruz voted against the bill over an issue unrelated to the Fort Hood shootings but that “he would have found another way to get it done” had the bill had not passed. “Supporting one amendment certainly does not mean a senator is obligated to support the entire bill.”
And although Cruz played an important role on the Senate Armed Services Committee at last year, the credit for changing the Pentagon’s long-standing policy belongs to at least a dozen senators and members of Congress who had pushed the issue relentlessly for years before Cruz ever arrived in the Senate.
It was Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), not Cruz, who originally introduced legislation to award the Purple Heart to the Fort Hood victims in 2009. Cornyn’s bill coincided with a similar bill from Representative John Carter (R-TX), whose district includes much of Fort Hood. Cornyn and Carter would introduce their bills again in 2011 and 2013. Representatives Roger Williams (R-TX), Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Peter King (R-NY) all pushed the matter in their own committees.
Representative Michael McCaul, another Texas Republican and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held hearings on the matter. Senator Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT), the former chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, did the same and commissioned a months-long investigation into the causes of the Fort Hood attack.
Lieberman introduced a bill of his own, along with Cornyn, in 2012 to mandate that the Pentagon change its criteria for awarding the Purple Heart that would include the Fort Hood victims. In 2014, Senator John Boozman, a Republican from Arkansas who is also on the Armed Services Committee, wrote legislation similar to Cruz’s to mandate that the Pentagon award Purple Hearts to victims of a similar shooting at a Little Rock military recruiting center in 2009.
Neal Sher, a lead attorney for the Fort Hood victims and their families who sued the Pentagon over the policy, said the reclassification was the result of efforts by multiple offices for multiple years on and off Capitol Hill.
“Cruz was instrumental, Cornyn was instrumental, the Texas House delegation, McCaul, Carter, Williams, were all instrumental,” said Sher. “It took years, years. The administration and the Pentagon were opposing it every step of the way. It took an act of Congress to get them to change their tune.”
A staffer who worked on the issue agreed that Cruz did play an important part in the final result for the families, but “the claim nonetheless omits what Lieberman, Cornyn and others had done to get the ball to the one-yard line. In other words, ‘the reason those Purple Hearts were awarded’ phrase is true but insufficient. “
It’s not the first time Cruz has claimed credit for something on the campaign trail that has raised eyebrows back in Washington.
Cruz ran into a buzz saw with Senator John McCain last month after the Texas senator told a New Hampshire audience that he had been pressing McCain to hold congressional hearings to allow members of the military to carry personal firearms on military bases. Cruz suggested that McCain had yet to respond.
McCain said Cruz had never spoken with him about it at all.
“Ask him how he communicated with me because I’d be very interested. Who knows what I’m missing?” McCain said to a group of reporters in the Capitol, according to The Hill. “Maybe it was through some medium that I’m not familiar with. Maybe bouncing it off the ozone layer, for all I know. There’s a lot of holes in the ozone layer, so maybe it wasn’t the ozone layer that he bounced it off of. Maybe it was through hand telegraph, maybe sign language, who knows?”
Cruz later acknowledged he “may have misspoken” about his outreach to McCain. Cruz’s office did not respond to requests for comment on his Fort Hood remarks.