Cruz, Rubio trade new shots over immigration

Willie Grace | 12/18/2015, 6 a.m.
Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio brought their increasingly nasty immigration fight to the campaign trail Thursday, accusing each other of ...
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) talks to CNN's Dana Bash on the steps of Capitol Hill Monday, September 23, 2013.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio brought their increasingly nasty immigration fight to the campaign trail Thursday, accusing each other of muddying their records for political expediency.

It's an extension of their exchanges in Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate, where Cruz hit Rubio for supporting a 2013 immigration reform proposal that granted undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and Rubio shot back that Cruz, too, had pushed an amendment that granted those immigrants legal status.

Cruz has been on the defensive in the days after the debate on the issue, and on Thursday, the Texas senator looked to regain momentum after increased attention on his record. In a new television spot in Iowa, Cruz amplified his new line of attack, the first time Cruz has taken to the airwaves to outline contrasts between him and another candidate during his campaign.

"Securing our borders and stopping illegal immigration is a matter of national security. That's why I fought so hard to defeat President Obama and the Republican establishment's Gang of 8 amnesty plan," Cruz said in the direct-to-camera spot. "Their misguided plan would have given Obama the authority to admit Syrian refugees, including ISIS terrorists. That's just wrong."

Cruz, the senator from Texas, continued latching Rubio's support for the bill to President Barack Obama and influential Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer in events across the country Thursday.

"For the first time in five debates, Senator Rubio publicly admitted not only did he support Obama and Schumer's amnesty but he still supports amnesty and citizenship today," Cruz said Thursday -- highlighting a Rubio stance that is anathema to the GOP's conservative base.

In Iowa, meanwhile, Rubio accused Cruz of trying to duck the issue -- pointing to his amendment that would have replaced citizenship with legal status for undocumented immigrants.

"He supports legalization, and I think his hope was once he got into the general election, to then start talking about legalization as a way to attract more voters," Rubio said.

The two are jockeying to become the Republican alternative to front-runner Donald Trump, and as each have climbed in the polls, they've ratcheted up attacks on each other over defense funding, U.S. government surveillance and other issues.

But the biggest dispute between Cruz and Rubio is over the two-year-old immigration bill that would have given undocumented immigrants a path to gaining U.S. citizenship. Rubio, as part of a bipartisan "Gang of Eight" in the Senate, helped author the reform measure. Cruz joined with other conservatives to defeat it.

Later, in Minnesota on Thursday, Cruz said that Rubio had broken the vow he had made to the voters who elected him in 2010.

"We made the identical promises to the men and women who elected us. But when 2013 came along, Senator Rubio and I made very different choices," he said, arguing that Rubio made that push primarily to court elite Republican donors. "Those decisions have consequences."

Cruz introduced a spate of amendments to that bill -- including one to strip out the path to citizenship and replace it with a measure that would allow those immigrants to gain legal status but never earn certain rights, like voting.