President Donald Trump’s evolving relationship with the F-35 program — from threatening Lockheed Martin when he was a presidential candidate, to saying it’s now in “great shape” — is thanks in part to lobbying from Texas Republican Ted Cruz, the senator told the Star-Telegram Saturday.
“I took the lead in pressing both the president directly, but also the Secretary of Defense [James] Mattis, on the incredible value of the F-35,” Cruz said in a Facebook Live interview with Star-Telegram political columnist Bud Kennedy.
“It is the next generation aircraft, and it is 35,000 jobs here in Texas,” added Cruz.
Critics of the F-35 say Trump has abandoned them in the fight for greater oversight on the project, citing the political pressure of jobs tied the program.
This month a committee Cruz serves on signed off on a bipartisan, bicameral defense authorization bill including an order for 77 of the aircraft.
The House approved that plan overwhelmingly last Thursday, and the Senate is expected to vote on it in the coming weeks.
Paying for the planes is another story.
Cruz is a critic of the type of spending bills the Senate is looking at to fund that defense plan. Earlier this year he voted against a bipartisan deal setting spending levels for the next two years, even as he praised the impact the deal would have on the military.
Asked whether he would vote to pay for the defense package he helped craft when the Senate takes up more spending bills this month, Cruz said, “I’m fighting for the F-35 in every respect.”
This fall Cruz will face off with El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, in one of the nation’s most highly-watched Senate races.
Cruz stopped in Dallas Saturday on a campaign swing that included speaking to supporters at Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ and getting a haircut at Kingdom Cuts Barber Shop.
His campaign did not publicize any events in Fort Worth on this trip and didn’t include the city in the five locations he’s selected for hosting debates debate O’Rourke before the November election.
“I’ve done town halls in every part of the state,” Cruz told the Star-Telegram Saturday. “When Hurricane Harvey hit… every community that was impacted… I was there not just once or twice but three, four, five times.”
Since launching a challenge to Cruz more than a year ago, O’Rourke has visited all of Texas’ 254 counties.
Not unlike Cruz’s first race in 2012, in which he challenged then sitting Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, O’Rourke’s campaign has been largely ignored by his own party’s leaders in Washington.
“Nobody thought I had a prayer, I’d never been elected to anything in my life,” Cruz recalled of his first race Saturday. “We saw a grassroots campaign from the people, and won an incredible victory from the grassroots.”
Roughly two years after being sworn into the Senate, Cruz turned around and launched a bid for his party’s presidential nomination. When he dropped out, Cruz was the last remaining Republican in the race against Trump.
“I will say it’s clear that Russia attempted to interfere in our election in 2016… we need to resist against that,” Cruz said Saturday.
Asked whether the president could pardon himself from the results of a special counsel’s investigation into his role in that interference, Cruz, who serves on the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, said he hadn’t seen any indication of criminal conduct by Trump.
“I’ll see how that investigation plays out,” Cruz said. “Ultimately, how something comes through may very well come through the committee I’m on, and I’ll keep an open mind.”