Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) praised a former conservative senator best known for his opposition to African American civil rights and gay people on Wednesday, suggesting that the nation would be better off if Congress were still filled with lawmakers who shared his beliefs and positions.
“It’s every bit as true now as it was then,” Cruz said at a fundraiser hosted at the Heritage Foundation. “We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.”
Helms, the longest serving senator from North Carolina, is renowned for speaking out against civil rights, voting rights, gay rights, and abortion — causes that Cruz himself has embraced in his short senate tenure.
The late Helms, who died in 2008, famously led a 16-day filibuster to prevent the Senate from approving the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday, described the Civil Rights Act as “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress,” organized against the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, and opposed any “federal financing of AIDS research and treatment,” arguing that “There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy.” “Homosexuals are weak, morally sick wretches,” Helms was once quoted as saying and he sought to block a nominee “because she’s a damn lesbian.”
Cruz is less inflammatory, but remains committed to Helms’ causes.
For instance, both men sought to undo a Voting Rights Act provision that requires Southern states with histories of discrimination to receive pre-clearance when changing election laws. Helms argued that the measure treated Southerners as “second-class citizens” and proposed an amendment that extended its terms to the entire United States. Cruz calls for repeal of the pre-clearance provision and insists that “we need to be fighting to ensure the law is colorblind and fair to everyone.” In June, he praised the Supreme Court for striking down a key section of the Act that determined which areas of the country should be subject to federal oversight.
Helms claimed that gay people revolt him, while the Texas senator now insists that gays are trying to silence Christians. During an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody in July, Cruz complained that marriage equality will jeopardize the “future of our country” and lead to hate speech charges against Christian pastors who decline to perform same-sex weddings. Both also agree on reducing the food stamps program, eliminating the progressive tax code system and replacing it with a flat tax and limiting women’s access to abortions.
Significantly, Helms and Cruz share the goal of purifying the party of moderate influences, pushing the GOP into a narrow ideological tent. Cruz mocks mainstream Republicans as “squishes” and decries members who don’t commit to fully defunding the Affordable Care Act. In 1994, Helms decried Republicans who supported President Bill Clinton’s crime bill as “Judases” and later, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, opposed the nomination of former GOP Gov. William Weld (MA) to an ambassadorship. Helms disliked Weld’s “blend of fiscal conservatism and progressive social stances, such as his support for abortion-and gay-rights” and eventually forced him to withdraw his nomination.
At Wednesday’s event, billed as the “Jesse Helms Lecture Series,” Cruz said that he gave his very first political donation to Helms and has since followed his mentor’s ideological foot steps. But it’s far from certain that Helms would have equally appreciated Cruz, who is of Cuban descent. During a 1986 visit to Mexico, Helms was encountered by protesters and remarked, “All Latins are volatile people. Hence, I was not surprised at the volatile reaction.”