Harry Reid

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

In discussing foreign policy at The Texas Tribune Festival on Saturday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz clarified his statement from August about bombing the Islamic State group back to the Stone Age.

“The president’s approach is fundamentally unserious,” Cruz said. “Throughout the course of discussion I have endeavored to ask, ‘How do you distinguish the good buys from the bad guys?’ Consistently the admin has not been able to give a satisfactory answer.”

President Barack Obama signed the measure to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State group on Friday. At the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on Saturday, Cruz said resolving the Syrian civil war should not be the objective of the United States.

“It is not our job to turn foreign nations," Cruz said. "If there are people who pose a clear and present danger to our national security, the objective should be to take out that threat. The consistent failure of Obama-Clinton foreign policy is the failure of focusing on U.S. national security.”

According to Cruz, of the two options that are available  topple the regime or manage it  neither are good.

“On one point, we had John Kerry saying we needed to launch a small attack,” Cruz said. “On the flip side, if we engage in a serious attack and the attack succeeds in toppling Bashar Al-assad and he’s a monster, he’s murdered women and children but if he were toppled, and the weapons fell into the hands of ISIS, that would be terrible for national security.”

Cruz also criticized Obama’s decision to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants after the November election.

“Announcing he is going to illegally grant amnesty, but then saying he will delay it until after the election is one of the most cynical acts I have ever seen,” Cruz said. “There is a reason why Democrat senators begged him, ‘Please don’t do this before the election.’ It’s not just a volatile issue; the numbers are 70 to 30 or higher against granting amnesty through executive order.”

Cruz addressed the topic of gridlock in Congress and said he was disappointed by the lack of action.

“Folks love to characterize gridlock in Washington,” Cruz said. “The House of Representatives has passed over 350 pieces of legislation. Most of those have bipartisan support. There are over 350 pieces of legislation on Harry Reid’s desk. He will not allow us to vote in anything. We have gridlock, but it is because Harry Reid and the Democrats do nothing.”

Maliha Mazhar, an international business and government junior, said she was interested in hearing what Cruz had to say on current issues.

“He’s one of our senators, and it’s important to be clued on what he thinks about the things going on in our country,” Mazhar said. “And he’s a potential candidate in 2016. It’s always good to meet someone who is potentially running for president. I like to be an informed voter.”

Haig Kupelian, a political science and philosophy freshman, said he appreciated Cruz’s answers, but that there were some things he could have expanded on.

“I wish he would have talked about if he was willing to declare war on ISIS or if he wanted another invasion like the one in Iraq,” Kupelian said.

A widely-rumored 2016 presidential candidate, Cruz said he thinks the Republican presidential nominee for 2016 should be whoever is “standing up in the room.”

“I think Republicans in 2016 should nominate whoever is leading the case that the economic policies we are seeing are not acceptable; that the retreat of American leaders in the world is making the world more dangerous,” Cruz said. “I would encourage everyone thinking about it to stand up and lead.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn criticized the inefficiency of Congress at his Texas Tribune Festival keynote interview Saturday.

Cornyn, who is also the Senate's minority whip, is running for his third term in the Senate. At the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on Saturday, he noted that although President Barack Obama’s approval rating is at a low 17 percent, Congress’ approval rating is much lower.

“I agree that Congress is dysfunctional, but largely it’s the Senate,” Cornyn said. “We’ve been largely relegated to showboats and anticipation of the election and not addressing the problems of our country.”

While critical of the 2013 government shutdown, Cornyn said Sen. Harry Reid, who is also the Senate's majority leader, spurs on the dysfunctional relationship in Congress. 

“There is an important difference between what people say and what people do,” Cornyn said. “President Obama has always talked about people working together, but we haven’t see a lot of it. Can we fix this? Yes, we can.”

Congress does not stay in session nearly as much as it needs to, Cornyn said. Congress has not passed a budget since 2009, and, according to Cornyn, there is no excuse for that. He suggested a five-day work week for Congress and said the recess they are taking before elections is unnecessary.

“We just adjourned Thursday night for 45 days now,” Cornyn said. “There no reason why Congress should be out of session. We should be there working. But only Senator Reid has the authority to decide when we should be in session.”

Cornyn also spoke about turmoil in the Middle East and said Obama needs to formulate a plan to deal with ISIS.

“I do believe that it was a mistake for President Obama to not negotiate bilateral security that would have left a small residual footprint for American and NATO troops in Iraq after the successful end of most of what we were fighting over there,” Cornyn said. “You have this radically barbaric Islamist group that is a real serious threat. What we keep waiting for is for the president to come up with a plan. He is the commander in chief. It is his responsibility.”

Cornyn said he does not agree with Obama’s current plan to arm and equip Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State group.

“What we need is a much broader and wholesomer debate,” Cornyn said. Senate is the only body able to declare a war. Secretary Kerry refusing to use that word is disingenuous. When America engages in a fight with a group like ISIS, that is a war.”

Cornyn said Obama needs to gain bipartisan support for his war on the Islamic State group.

“Only by doing that will he get the support of the American people,” Cornyn said. “He seems to go it alone, which means he will be alone and responsible for the outcome.”

Government freshman Madison Albrecht said she came to listen to Cornyn to hear his plans for the future and his stance on different issues.

“I thought he was very good at explaining his viewpoint on various issues and how he felt about the problems in the Senate,” Albrecht said. “I think there are clearly many problems with Congress, and he was able to address concerns.”

Cornyn said once the Senate has been restored to its role as a functioning body, approval rates will go up along with satisfaction rates.

“Whether you’re in the majority or in the minority, it’s a pretty miserable experience,” Cornyn said. “Not only for the voters but also for the people who work there.”

Six students repeated a simple message: “I am undocumented, and I am unafraid.” Their voices rose above the hurried shuffle of the West Mall on Tuesday morning as they shared their stories of coming to the U.S. and to UT.

Despite the danger of possible deportation, these students said it was time to speak on behalf of themselves and their communities. An estimated 200 undocumented students attend UT, according to the Office of Admissions, and 65,000 undocumented students graduate each year from U.S. high schools, according to research group The Urban Institute.

In their speeches, the students urged U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to put the DREAM Act on the Senate’s agenda before the new Congress takes office, and they want it to pass.

The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act would provide conditional permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented minors who have lived in the United States since at least age 15, and who either attend college or join the armed services for at least two years. The earliest version of the legislation appeared before Congress in 2001 and despite consistent bipartisan support, it has never passed into law.

“I remember driving up [Interstate Highway 35] with my mom, and the first thing that caught my attention was the UT Tower,” said Daniel Olvera, a government and education senior and historian of undocumented student and allies group University Leadership Initiative. “From that day forward, I made a pact with myself that I would obtain an education at this University. I made it, I’m in college and about to finish. Now, the struggle is stronger than ever. We will not be able to give back to the country that we love with the skills and talents we gain here through our hard work.”

Five other ULI members from Mexico, Guatemala and Nepal declared their undocumented status, offering their own experience as a testament to the necessity of the DREAM Act. Edilsa Lopez, a business and international relations junior and ULI vice president, shed tears as she described her experience being kidnapped twice and finally brought to Brownsville at age 13, where she escaped her captor and sought help from family members and strangers.

Lopez now works in odd jobs and as a designer to put herself through school and support her three orphaned younger siblings, two who are still in Guatemala and one who is living in Houston.

“I still have one more year to graduate, and I recently was nominated for the Presidential Leadership Award at UT,” Lopez said. “I have to support my siblings financially because I am the only support they have, and I have to support myself and maintain myself in school so I can succeed. There are many who call me a criminal because I am undocumented, but I didn’t have the choice to come here.”

These students are not in serious threat of deportation, as immigration officials have shown little interest in targeting individuals without ties to major crime, said sociology professor Nestor Rodriguez, who specializes in migrant and immigration research and policy. However, their cries for the DREAM Act’s passage may fall on deaf ears as Republicans approach legislation with new energy after success in the Nov. 2 elections, and prospects for the 2011-12 congress are even bleaker for DREAM Act supporters, Rodriguez said.

“The group that got increased presence and power are the Republicans, including the minority of tea party people,” Rodriguez said. “These are not the sources for more inclusion of immigrants and amnesty or legalization. For these undocumented students, that means a larger wall.”

Reid campaigned for re-election on a promise to put the DREAM Act up for a vote during the lame duck session, but his office reported that although he hopes to pass it before January, they are uncertain of being able to gain the necessary Republican support.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she would not vote for the current version of the DREAM Act, although she does support expanded educational options for undocumented students.

“The DREAM Act now being discussed in the Senate needs to have more input in order to determine a fair process, and I would not support the bill as it is,” Hutchison said. “I previously worked on an alternative that would allow young people who have gone through school in the United States and want to pursue a college education to get a student visa.”

However, ULI members said the fight for the DREAM Act will not end until the law passes. State legislators have added more than 15 immigration-related bills to the spring docket since Monday, when it became possible to do so. Many came from state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, including two that mirror aspects of the controversial Arizona bill SB 1070. With this in mind, ULI students said they will keep fighting for representation and rights as the Americans they believe they are.

“I’m very much like everybody at this University, except for a nine-digit number,” said Him Ranjit, biomedical engineering and government sophomore and ULI treasurer who came from Nepal with his family at age 10. “The opposition doesn’t want us to achieve our full potential, but we are fighting for our lives, and we won’t stop until we win.”