— -- Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have continued their fight that began on the debate stage this week, slinging insults at each other's immigration records from the campaign trail.
At a campaign stop in Muscatine, Iowa, on Thursday, Rubio said Cruz “has not told the truth about his position in the past on legalization.”
“He supports legalizing people that are here illegally,” Rubio said. “Or at least did until the other night, at the debate.”
Shortly after, Cruz approached reporters, unprompted, to defend himself, in Las Vegas.
"Let’s have a moment of simple clarity: I oppose amnesty, I oppose citizenship, I oppose legalization for illegal immigrants. I always have, I always will and I challenge every other Republican candidate to say the same thing or if not, then to stop making silly assertions that their records and my records on immigration are the same,” Cruz said.
But on Fox News on Wednesday, a visibly flustered Cruz stumbled after being played his own words from 2013.
That year, Cruz proposed several amendments to the "Gang of Eight” immigration bill, a comprehensive immigration reform bill co-authored by Rubio. One of those would have supported legalization, but banned a pathway to citizenship.
From the Senate floor in May 2013, Cruz said, "If the proponents of this bill actually demonstrate a commitment not to politics, not to campaigning all the time, but to actually fixing this problem, to finding a middle ground, that would fix the problem and also allow for those 11 million people who are here illegally a legal status with citizenship off the table.”
Cruz said that the amendment he offered in 2013 was a “poison pill” meant to expose those behind the "Gang of Eight” bill who, he said, were angling for amnesty above all other forms of immigration reform. Cruz said his amendment called the “bluff” of the authors of the bill and “laid naked the partisanship, the hypocrisy and the lies."
“I have never supported legalization and I do not intend to support legalization,” Cruz said at the Republican debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Rubio said Cruz’s use of the word "intend" was “crafty language” and that Cruz was only giving himself some “wiggle room” in a primary where voters are seeking candidates who are tough on illegal immigration.
“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.
But Cruz shot back, saying that “the only thing that has shifted is the language of the establishment. I have been consistent from day one."
Cruz said that both he and Rubio campaigned for the Senate saying they would fight amnesty but Rubio reversed course once he made it to Washington.
"Those decisions have consequences. Now in 2013, I think the Rubio campaign thought it was a very clever move that by supporting amnesty which is supported by big business, that they would lock up the big money donors in the Republican Party and he would benefit,” Cruz said. "Now two years later, I think the Rubio campaign, they wish they hadn’t made that choice. And as a result they are trying to muddy the waters, but you know the lines are very clear."
The Cruz campaign released an ad in Iowa Thursday that touts the senator’s fight against the “Gang of Eight” bill. In addition, two of his colleagues in Congress with conservative records on immigration, Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Jeff Sessions, as well as Rush Limbaugh, defended Cruz on Thursday, saying he was against legalization and the "Gang of Eight" bill.
As the fight continues between the two men, at least one of them said the attack has turned personal.
"Ted is the one that chose to attack me personally in a very strong way and I simply responded with the facts,” said Rubio in Iowa Thursday.
Cruz continued to heap praise on Rubio even when criticizing him.
"Now, Marco Rubio is a friend of mine he is a wonderful communicator, he's a charming individual he's very well liked,” Cruz said.