WASHINGTON — When Ted Cruz tried to speak to the media Thursday in front of the White House about the American prisoners being held in Iran, the Texas Republican was shouted down by a number of liberal protesters from a group known for interrupting political events.
Rather than ask them to leave, the Republican presidential candidate invited several of the anti-war protesters to debate him on the Iranian nuclear deal in front of the cameras.
For 25 contentious minutes under a tree in Lafayette Square across the street from the White House, Cruz articulated his opposition to the deal, blasted the White House for not arranging the release of the prisoners and dueled with several pink-shirt clad protesters.
“Will your colleagues be quiet while you come forward?” Cruz said at one point after a Code Pink protester with a bullhorn interrupted his remarks.
“Will you ask your colleagues to be quiet?” Cruz said, as Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin made her way up to the microphones. “We can have a discussion.”
At least 100 supporters, protesters and reporters were in attendance at the event organized by the conservative group Concerned Women for America.
The four Americans believed to be held in Iran are Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian and Robert Levinson. The nuclear deal did not include their release.
During the event outside the White House on Thursday, conservative supporters held signs showing the faces of the American prisoners while Code Pink protesters held large hand-written pink signs saying things like “Peace with Iran” and “Support Nuclear Deal With Iran.”
“If this deal goes through,” Cruz told Benjamin at one point, “over 100 billion dollars will flow to Iran that they will use to fund Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and radical Islamic terrorists. Those billions of dollars will be used to fund jihadists who will murder Americans and murder Israelis who will murder Europeans. Does that make any sense?”
“No, it doesn’t make any sense,” Benjamin responded, “because the only way that we’re going to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, if they’re trying to get one, is to have this deal.”
“That’s not just what President Obama and John Kerry are saying,” the Code Pink protester continued. “That’s what the British are saying, the French are saying, the Chinese are saying, the Russians are saying, the Australians are saying, New Zealand is saying, Jordan is saying. In fact, it passed unanimously through the security council. So the entire world is saying this is the best deal we’re going to get to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?”
Added Benjamin: “And what makes you think as Ted Cruz you know better than all these countries together?”
Cruz responded: “Thank you, ma’am. And I respect your right to speak. But let’s have some dialogue. So one of the things you said is ‘if Iran is trying to get nuclear weapons.'”
“Well, the nice thing is in debates, the truth matters,” he said. “And you know one entity, one person, with whom there is no ambiguity in terms of whether Iran wants nuclear weapons is the Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani. Both of whom explicitly say they are developing nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about it.”
Benjamin tried to interrupt Cruz, but he said: “I did not interrupt you. I did not interrupt. So I would ask you to show me the same.”
The Republican added: “I would note you did not respond to the irrefutable point that this deal will send over a hundred billion dollars to Iran and those billions of dollars will be used to murder Americans by Jihadists. You didn’t respond to that.”
“And let me make a second point: I recognize that the folks of Code Pink like to hold up signs saying ‘peace with Iran.’ You know who doesn’t reciprocate those views? Iran…In the midst of this negotiation, the Ayatollah Khamenei led thousands of Iranians in chanting ‘death to America’ while they burned American flags and Israeli flags.”
Later during Cruz’s appearance, another sign-waving protestor interrupted him while he spoke of the Americans in Iran. “What does this have to do with the nuke deal?” the man said. “Come on. Let’s move on.”
Cruz said to the protester:”“Are you scared to have a conversation. Are you scared of the truth?”
“No, absolutely not,” the male protester replied. “It’s just why are we rehashing old history?”
“I do respect you coming out here,” the protester continued. “I do listen to you. I’m very curious as to your views. But the vitriolic rhetoric, the going back over past history, doesn’t help us right now. Moving on, what we need to know right now is how are we going to get to this point where we’re assured that everyone feels safe and comfortable. Not with threats of ‘they’re going to kill us all.’ Let’s just figure this out so we can make this work.”
Cruz replied: “And sir, I will respond to you now. This is how civilized people have discourse. They don’t yell and interrupt each other. I heard you out, and now I’m going to respond. You said, ‘why should we discuss history.’ Well there’s an old adage: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.'”
“The last ineffective weak president we had, Jimmy Carter, wrung his hands in impotence while our hostages languished in Iran,” Cruz said. “This president, like Jimmy Carter, is leaving four American hostages in Iran.”