US Senate Campaign Context: In-depth conversations with Texas candidates Ted Cruz, Colin Allred

Watch the special report "Campaign Context: U.S. Senate Race" tonight in prime time on your local Nexstar station.

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Two vastly different candidates are running to represent Texans in the U.S. Senate for the next six years and Nexstar sat down with both to give voters a better idea of the men behind the talking points.

KXAN anchor Daniel Marin recently traveled to Houston to sit down with incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz at the senator's home. First elected in 2012, Cruz — a conservative who narrowly squeaked out a reelection win in 2018 — is looking for his third term in the upper chamber.

CAMPAIGN CONTEXT: Fact-checking the Texas race for U.S. Senate

Marin also met with Cruz's Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, at a downtown Dallas restaurant that provides job training for young people emerging from the juvenile justice system. Allred, a civil rights attorney and former NFL player, was elected to represent the 32nd district of Texas in 2018, defeating a longtime Dallas-area Republican.

In unhurried, in-depth conversations, both candidates laid out their plans on the issues of border security and immigration, reproductive rights and the economy. The two also discussed their "styles" of politics and their personal approaches to bipartisanship.

Note: Some of the following questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Ted Cruz on the border, immigration

DANIEL: How would you balance the things that you would like to see when it comes to the border, things like building the border wall, reinstating the "remain in Mexico policy" — How would you balance all of those with the needs and contributions of the immigrant community in Texas?

SEN. CRUZ: So listen, for a long time, I've described my views on immigration in four words: legal good, illegal bad. I think most Texans agree with that. I think most Americans agree with that.

As you know, I'm the son of an immigrant. My father came from Cuba with nothing. My dad was imprisoned in Cuba. He was tortured in Cuba. When he came to Texas, it was 1957. He was a teenager; he was 18. He couldn't speak English. He had $100 in his underwear. And he went to the University of Texas. He was a freshman; he had just been admitted to UT. He arrived in Austin, his very first job, he washed dishes making 50 cents an hour. And he came to America because he was seeking freedom. Our state, our nation is built by those risking everything seeking freedom. I think that is an amazing part of our heritage.

Now, that being said, there's a right way to come to this country. You follow the law, you follow the rules, you wait in line, you come legally. And I will say what's happening on our southern border -- it is a crisis unlike any we've seen in the history of our country. I spend a lot of time down there. It has never been remotely this bad. We've had over 11 million illegal immigrants cross this border illegally. And you ask, 'How do you -- how do you fix it?' You know what's frustrating? This crisis is manmade. And it is Joe Biden and Colin Allred and the Democrats that created this crisis. Why is that? Because when Biden came in office, he inherited a border that was largely secure. He inherited the lowest rate of illegal immigration in 45 years. I had worked hand in hand with President Trump. And we had largely secured the border, we didn't achieve incredible victory securing the border. All Biden had to do was nothing. Just don't screw it up.

But instead, what did he do? He came in and he deliberately broke the border. It was three decisions he made, and they were all unilateral executive decisions. Number one, you rightly noted, he halted building the border wall -- did that on the first day in office. Number two, he reinstated the disastrous policy of "catch and release." So now that we apprehend people here illegally, they let him go. And number three, he pulled out of the unbelievably successful "remain in Mexico" agreement. "Remain in Mexico" is how we'd gotten the lowest rate of illegal immigration in 45 years. The result of that -- the numbers exploded. And they didn't do so gradually over six months. They happened overnight. We went from the lowest rate in 45 years to the highest rate in the history of our country. All of that is deliberate.

The good news, though. Because it was done by unilateral executive action, it can be undone by unilateral executive action. And I believe, if and when Donald Trump is reelected in November, and we get a Republican Senate, we get a Republican House, in January, you are going to see the border secured once again, because President Trump is going to reverse those three decisions. We're going to build the wall again, we're going to end "catch and release," we're going to reinstate "remain in Mexico," and we will see the numbers plummet, which is what the people of Texas want and deserve.

DANIEL: You mentioned your father and his journey with immigration. When you see the images of people gathered at the border en masse. I've heard you say in other interviews, it's a sad thing to see.

SEN. CRUZ: Of course, it's tragic. It is.

DANIEL: I'm curious, do you see your father in those people in that crowd?

SEN. CRUZ: No, because my father came here legally. And there is a right way to come. And I've got to say, we have millions of legal immigrants. Every year, the United States lets in about a million people legally. There's no country on the face of the Earth that is more generous with welcoming immigrants than the United States is. That's a good thing that is a strength of our country.

What is happening at the southern border, it's interesting, Daniel. You cannot see it firsthand and defend it. I was down at the border a number of months ago, and a reporter asked me, 'Well, aren't the policies of the Democrats a lot more compassionate and humane when it comes to the border?' I just started laughing, and I said, 'You know who doesn't believe that anymore? Democrats.' And I asked the reporter, I said, 'Where's Joe Biden? Where's Kamala Harris? Where is even a single Democrat senator? Where's a single Democrat House member?

By the way, where's Colin Allred? Have you seen him doing any border trips? Have you seen him going out on midnight patrol with the Border Patrol agents and encountering, as you do every time, children who've been abused, who've been brutalized? You cannot see what is happening at the southern border and defend it.

Allred on the border, immigration

DANIEL: You have a new political ad touting that you stood up to President Biden when it comes to the border. Back in January, you were one of three Democrats who supported a resolution to condemn President Biden's handling of the southern border. Walk us through your evolution of thought on this. You now support the president's executive orders that came out recently. What do you say to those who see that as some kind of flip-flop on the issue?

REP. ALLRED: Well, you know, I've got a personal story with this because my family is from Brownsville. My grandfather was a customs officer after serving in the Navy in the Pacific in World War II. It's where my mom and my aunt grew up and I spent a lot of my childhood there. And I've always seen our border communities as not just places that you go to point out problems, but as places where real folks are living, trying to raise their families, and where I think they expect us to have responsible responses to what's happening.

And what we have seen is that we've had a change. In the last month of December of 2023, we had a record number of crossings, 300,000 in a month. I think it's around the same as we had in the last year of the Obama presidency. The facts on the ground have changed. We do have a crisis at the border. Venezuela is in collapse, and we've seen millions of Venezuelans fleeing Venezuela. We've seen what's happening in Haiti in terms of the gang violence; it's forcing so many Haitians out of Haiti. We know what's still happening in the northern triangle countries. And this is also a global phenomenon that countries all over the world are facing.

And so it requires a response, and we have to respond with smart policy. And this is where I get really frustrated because I see Ted Cruz — with a bipartisan effort in the United States Senate to bring billions of dollars to this issue for more immigration judges, for more Border Patrol agents, for more administrative personnel to help secure the border as well, and also changing the standard on the asylum process, which I think is causing and exacerbating the problem that we're having — and he says 'no' to that.

I support it, but he's saying no, and he's saying no but also at the same time admitting that he's worried that if he does that, it's going to impact the elections in November. And so what he's saying when he's saying that is, 'I don't want to fix the problem, because I want to run on the problem.' And that, to me, has to be so outrageous to every single Texan.

And I'm tired of folks going down to Brownsville where my family's from, or to El Paso and using it like a political safari, where they put on their outdoor clothing and they're kind of trying to get in the weeds and point out migrants. What we need them to do is help us pass legislation to address this. We're the United States of America. We're Texans. This is not beyond our capacity to have a secure, fair border where we treat people in a humane way, but also, sometimes, we'll have to be tough.

DANIEL: When was the last time you went to the border? And did you get a chance to interact with some of the people trying to come across?

REP. ALLRED: I was just in El Paso and, of course, I've been in the Valley quite a bit. I've crossed over the border and spoken to migrants who were coming. And I've heard some of their, quite honestly, horrific stories of what they've been through on their journey to try and come to the United States. And I am sympathetic to that. But we're a nation of immigrants. And I want to make sure that our legal immigration system is working much better than it is.

We haven't passed comprehensive reform to our immigration system since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. I mean, that's a long time. And I think it's because of folks like Ted Cruz. I am quite confident that (Sen.) John Cornyn and I could sit down together and pass a comprehensive immigration reform, and reform to our immigration system that would secure our border, but also put our immigration system on a much better footing for our economy heading forward.

DANIEL: Let's say you get elected, and you're working alongside Senator Cornyn, what's one specific thing that you would like to tackle right away?

There are three components that I know that we have to do. One, of course, is security. We do need more personnel. And when I speak to our border patrol agents, they talk to me about that all the time. I'm very concerned about the mental health of our Border Patrol agents. I've heard stories about folks who are being asked to work so much overtime, that they're seeing breakdowns in their home life. And they're experiencing a lot of losses in terms of folks leaving the Border Patrol because it's become such a difficult job. So we need more personnel. That's certainly true. And we need more technology. And in places, at times, I've supported some physical barriers, where the experts say it will be helpful. So that's the security component. And that will be one important component to it.

The other one, as I mentioned, is reforming our legal immigration system to make sure that we can attract the best and the brightest from around the world. And do it in a way that's not so onerous or so difficult to get through that folks feel like it's not going to work. Every employer I hear from here in Dallas, and also across our state, are telling me the same thing. They want more workers, and they want to do it in a legal fashion. But the system we have isn't working.

And the third component is dealing with the folks who are here, who have been here for a long time who are undocumented, particularly our 'dreamers' and providing them with a pathway out of the shadows, to find a way to either into citizenship, or to find a way and to be able to work legally, consistent with our values.

Cruz on reproductive rights, IVF

DANIEL: You and Sen. (Katie) Britt filed a bill to try and further protect in vitro fertilization by stripping Medicaid funds from any state that bans IVF. But as I'm sure you are aware, at the recent Southern Baptist Convention, they passed a resolution raising some concerns about IVF. Now, given your background, how do you wrestle with that? As a Southern Baptist?

SEN. CRUZ: Yeah, listen, I'm not a pastor; I'm not a theologian. And pastors can work to lay out their views of faith. That's their job. My job is to represent 30 million Texans. And I tell you what I think. I strongly support IVF. I think IVF is a medical miracle. If you look at IVF, it has enabled millions of parents, millions of hopeful moms and dads to bring into the world a little baby, a little boy, a little girl.

Every year right now in the United States, about 2% of all of the births in America come from IVF. There are over 8 million babies that have been born through IVF. I think it is extraordinarily pro family. And I have many, many dear friends whose children were conceived through IVF. Now, we're at a time politically where a lot of parents are confused, and they're concerned. They're concerned that IVF might be in jeopardy. And the Alabama Supreme Court decision contributed to that. And frankly, there are more than a few Democrats who are deliberately trying to spread that confusion because they think it's politically beneficial to them.

Well, as far as I know, all 100 senators support IVF. There's literally no debate on the question of IVF in the U.S. Senate. So, I went to Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, and I said, 'Katie, you support IVF. I support IVF. Let's draft legislation that is simple, that is straightforward, that protects IVF. That puts it in federal law, an ironclad protection, so that nobody needs to be afraid, nobody needs to be confused that you know that you as an American citizen have a right to access IVF technology and that no state no local government can ban IVF.' We drafted that. We filed it.

Now, it's the sort of bill that on the merits, it should pass 100 to nothing. As I said, there's literally not a single Republican, not a single Democrat who disagrees with IVF. Well, I'm sorry to tell you, Katie and I, we went to the Senate floor to try to pass my legislation. We stood up and asked for unanimous consent to pass it and the Democrats stood up and objected. The reason our bill didn't pass is because the Democrats blocked it. And their reason for blocking it is really cynical. Democrats don't want to pass a strong protection of IVF in the federal law. Why? Because they want to spend millions of dollars in November telling the voters the "mean Republicans" want to take away IVF, never mind that we're all supporting a bill to protect IVF. This is about politics and misdirection.

DANIEL: But when you go back to the vote at the Southern Baptist convention, when you saw that vote, what goes through your mind as a Southern Baptist?

SEN. CRUZ: Everyone is entitled to make their own faith determination ... My job in the Senate is not to be anyone's pastor. My job in the Senate is to fight every day for 30 million Texans to fight for jobs, to fight for freedom, to fight for security.

Allred on reproductive rights

DANIEL: You're a father. You said in 2019, unbeknownst to you, you became the first to take paternity leave. You've spoken out against the state's abortion law. Your opponents and other Republicans who support really strict restrictions on abortion say that they're trying to protect life. That's the phrase you hear a lot, "protecting life." How does that phrase strike you?

REP. ALLRED: Well, what I've seen is that this is a law that has gone way too far. And that this is the predictable outcome of what extremists like Ted Cruz had been saying for decades, and now have made into a reality here in Texas. And what it looks like in Texas, is that it's over 20,000 Texas, women have been forced to give birth to their rapist's child. That's not my number. That's the Houston Chronicle's number. It looks like mothers like Lauren Miller, who's a neighbor of mine here in North Texas. She's an eighth-generation Texan. She already was a mother and got pregnant with twins, one of the twins wasn't going to make it and was actually killing the other one and her. And her doctor here in Dallas said she was going to have to leave the state to get the care that she needed. And she had to go to Colorado to get treated.

Or Kate Cox who I mentioned was already a mother and who had to go to the emergency room four times. And her doctor said she needed a medically necessary abortion and couldn't get it close to home. Or Dr. Austin Dennard, who's a friend of mine, and who is an OB-GYN herself, whose husband is also an OB-GYN who noticed herself on her own ultrasound, the baby's skull wasn't forming. She could not get the care she needed close to home and had to leave our state.

These are multi-generation Texans who are being forced by this extreme law to have to go somewhere else to get treated by some other doctor. Well, they've never met, in some places, they've never been staying in some hotel, having to find childcare for the kids they already have.

That's how far this law is gone. But it also has, I think, had an impact that we're not talking about on our businesses, and our university systems, and that we are only beginning to see which is that folks are already starting to say that they don't want to send their kids to school in Texas. And our medical schools -- we're seeing changes in who's applying to come here. They're having a harder time attracting and retaining talent.

And the same thing I'm hearing from a lot of business leaders is that when they're trying to bring someone in or keep someone who's talented here. This is part of their conversations. 'Well, what if I want to start a family? How's this law going to impact me? It's going to impact every aspect of our lives. And we have to reverse it.

DANIEL: Last month you were in Austin, at a women's center on the anniversary of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. Why was it important for you to be there that day?

REP. ALLRED: Well, I think it's a dark anniversary in a lot of ways. It's one of the first times that I'm aware of, we've seen a right that has been granted for over 50 years in the United States ripped away from Texas Women. And when I talked to so many Texas Women, including my mom, they were shocked that here we are at this stage, and that we're still having some of these fights, in fact that these rights have been taken away.

Cruz on the economy, rising prices

DANIEL: You're the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. From that vantage point, what can you all do to get these rising (consumer) prices down for everyone?

SEN. CRUZ: Look, it's a great question. And in terms of inflation, there are three things we can do: Number one, we've got to stop spending money [what] we don't have. The reason inflation has taken off is because the Democrats spent trillions of dollars we didn't have, borrowed trillions of dollars we didn't have, printed trillions of dollars we didn't have. That's driven up costs for Texans who are hurting everywhere.

Number two, a big part of inflation is energy. And Joe Biden, the Democrats, including Colin Allred have waged a war on Texas oil and gas producers. Joe Biden put a ban in place on new permits to export liquid natural gas. That hurt jobs in Texas, it hurt our allies and helped our enemies. And amazingly enough, Colin [Allred] already voted in favor of Joe Biden's ban on additional LNG export permits. Those are policies that hurt. If and when we win in November, we're going to end that war on energy. We're going to lower the cost of energy, and what that's going to do is lower the cost of everything else because energy is reflected in the cost of everything else.

But number three, I would say infrastructure is critically important to lowering costs. As the ranking member of the [U.S. Senate] Commerce Committee, and if we get a majority in November — I think we will — I'll be the chairman of the Commerce Committee, which is really good for Texas in terms of fighting for jobs in Texas.

I would point to, in terms of infrastructure, number one — two freeways. [Interstate 14], which will run from the Permian Basin east all the way through East Texas, [and] all the way ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean to Georgia. I was the lead author of I-14. That legislation, I did it with [Sen.] Raphael Warnock, a liberal Democrat from Georgia. And we passed it into law. That Interstate is going to help create thousands of high-paying jobs.

Secondly, I-27 is going to run from Laredo north through West Texas, through the Panhandle through New Mexico, ultimately, all the way north to Canada. I-27, again, I was the lead author of that. That I did with [Sen.] Ben Ray Lujan, a Democrat from New Mexico. Cruz-Lujan passed it into law. Those two together are going to be responsible for billions of dollars of economic activity in Texas, and thousands upon thousands of high-paying jobs.

I would say also, if you look at the Rio Grande Valley, you look at South Texas, there are, right now, four new, pending bridge projects in South Texas. Two new bridges in Laredo, one in Brownsville, one in Eagle Pass. All four of those bridge projects were being delayed by bureaucratic roadblocks that the Biden administration had put in place.

I worked unified with the South Texas congressional delegation. We brought together every Republican, every Democrat in the South Texas delegation, all fighting together for these bridges. Ultimately, I authored legislation that expedited the permitting for all three bridges, that put a shot clock on the White House, that gave the president 120 days and it said, 'You have 120 days to grant or deny the permits. And if you do nothing, the permits will be deemed granted automatically by operation of law.' That bill was signed into law on Dec. 22 of last year, actually, it was my birthday. It was a great birthday present.

And just a few weeks ago, the White House finally granted the permits for those bridges. Every year, Texas does about $800 billion of trade and commerce with Mexico. Those bridges are going to result in tens of thousands of high-paying jobs and billions more of economic activity. They're going to help every Texas farmer, every Texas rancher, every small business, every manufacturer. And they're going to help consumers because they reduce the cost of goods getting to the grocery store. And so it is a win-win for Texas, and it's an example of what we can do when we're focused on fighting for jobs in the state of Texas.

Allred on the economy, rising prices

DANIEL: You've talked about growing up with a single mom, knowing what it's like to say a little prayer when you swipe the debit card at the checkout. What's the game plan to combat rising prices that are affecting everybody?

REP. ALLRED: That's right, we have to tackle this. And when you grew up the way I did, I think you have a sensitivity to what it means for eggs to be more expensive. I mean, I know what it's like to go through the checkout line and have to put things back, because you couldn't afford that this week. I know what that feeling is. As a parent now, I certainly understand how devastating that would be to do that for my kids. And so that's why I've always been so focused on lowering folks' costs everywhere I can.

From your health care costs, I'm proud that we kept the cost of insulin at $35 a month for folks who are on Medicare. I voted for that. Ted Cruz voted against it again. He also prevented us from capping that for folks who aren't on Medicare. We have seen some providers already lower their cost of insulin to match that. We're also trying to combat things like your childhood costs. I'm the first member of Congress to ever take paternity leave, and I use that as an example to try and talk about why it's necessary for us now to have a national paid leave policy, where folks when they have a child or when they have a life event, that they're able to take some time off and not leave their job. A lot of good companies are already doing that because they know it increases productivity and helps them retain their workers. We should have a national policy around that.

We have to also continue to make sure that we're good stewards, of course, of the public dollars. I'm proud of trying to make sure that we do that. and I want to be even more aggressive on that going forward. What I see from Ted Cruz is somebody who I don't think is interested at all in lowering folks' everyday costs, who really is only looking out for the wealthiest and the best connected.

DANIEL: Keeping money in people's pockets is always a good thing, saving where one can. But tackling rising prices, is there a game plan there?

REP. ALLRED: Yeah. We are still coming out of a pandemic, and I think we have to remember that. We're still seeing some of the tail effects of that. But I do think the game plan overall has to be to make sure that we continue to grow the economy, we're continuing to see economic growth, but we have to bring down inflation. I think that has to be a joint effort, both with the Federal Reserve, which we've seen what they're doing, but also with Congress making smart fiscal policy, when it comes to our tax policy, yes, but also the investments that we make. So that when we make these investments that keep dollars in folks' pockets, that we're not also having an inflationary impact.

Cruz on leadership style, bipartisanship

SEN CRUZ: I've said a lot of times that the difference between Republicans and Democrats — I think Republicans are terrible communicators, and they communicate with their left brain, they communicate with logic. And so, you get Republicans that get up and they put a green eyeshade on, and they put up a pie chart and they say, 'If you look at the long-term actuarial soundness of the Social Security system...' And listen, for those of us who care about numbers and facts, you hear an argument that says, 'Yeah! We need to do something to protect and save Social Security. That's persuasive!' But a lot of people don't think that way.

Republicans try to appeal to your brain. Democrats typically [try to] appeal to your heart. So Democrats will just say, 'He wants to eat your children!' And, by the way, the heart is much more effective than the brain. If you were to pick one, there's no doubt the heart is more effective.

What I think is most effective is to use both. It's to appeal to reason and logic and explain, but explain in a way that matters, in a way that matters to you and your family. The best political advice I ever got in my life was early on, right when I was first running for office. I was getting ready to give a campaign speech somewhere, and Heidi [Cruz's wife] told me, 'Ted, remember it's not about you. It's about them. It's about their families, their kids, their futures. It's about their dreams.'

And you get so many political candidates, politicians that jump on stage and the only word out of their mouth is, 'I - I - I - I - I.' That's something to this day before I talk to any group, I try to remember that 'It's not about you. It's about them.' And if you can talk about what they care about, if you can make it relevant to their life, that's powerful. I think we need more real conversations.

Allred on leadership style, bipartisanship

DANIEL: Your style of politics — Do you lead with emotion, or do you like to think things through? What's your style?

REP. ALLRED: Yeah, well, I think I've become pretty well-known for keeping my cool and for always being one of the calmer people, even when everything's going to heck all around me.
I think I developed that in my NFL career, where the idea was to perform. You're losing? Your head's not going to help, right? And I think that's also true when it comes to legislation or responding to the issues of the day.

That kind of snap judgment that you might make in the first moment is not always, to me, the one that's wisest and most prudent. If you think things through and also put yourself in the shoes of someone who you might disagree with, you can sometimes find yourself understanding, 'Well, maybe this is more gray than black and white.' And I'm somebody who's comfortable with that. When I see Ted Cruz, I see some but somebody who I think sees everything in such stark terms, that it's either black, or it's white, and he's always going to be fighting it.

That's not my experience of life, and I don't think it's most Texans' either. Often, things are very complicated, and smart people are often working hard to try and solve them. And well-meaning people are out there who want to be consulted with. Some of the folks I love the most in the world disagree with me on restoring a woman's right to choose here in Texas. I understand that. I'm a Christian, I went to Baylor, I'm a church-going man, I get it. But I also understand that we need to have a more fulsome conversation about how we can both protect life consistent with also protecting individual rights, right? To me, that's the kind of thing where you have to have leaders in place who want to take that approach.

But I do think that becoming a father and having two young children has fundamentally changed me in the way that every parent I think can say the same. It has extended my view into the future so much more in terms of my concern about their future, and what country and what state they're going to inherit. And I want to make sure they have the opportunities that I had, but also that they inherit a state and a country that's not just destroyed by divisions, and that's not at each other's throats. But one that does have, yes, important differences at times, but that fundamentally understands, I think it's John Lewis who used to tell us, that we might have come here on different ships, but we're in the same boat now. We're all Americans. We're all Texans.

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