WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday that the country would be better off if the Senate was full of people like Jesse Helms, the late senator who was ardently opposed to all kinds of civil rights measures and even tried to block the Senate from approving a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.
During remarks at a Heritage Foundation event dubbed the "Jesse Helms Lecture Series," Cruz told a story of Helms receiving a $5,000 political donation from actor John Wayne, who apparently later told Helms he liked him because "you're that guy saying all those crazy things" and that there needed to be 100 more of him.
"It's every bit as true now as it was then," Cruz said. "We need 100 more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate."
Helms, the conservative North Carolina Republican who served in the Senate for 30 years, was known for his efforts to stop progressive polices relating to gay rights, abortion and race. He opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he referred to as "the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress." When the Senate acted in 1983 to create a federal holiday honoring King, Helms staged a 16-day filibuster to try to block it. He ultimately caved in exchange for action on a tobacco bill.
In 1988, Helms opposed the Kennedy-Hatch AIDS bill, stating that there "is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy."
Helms passed away in 2008.
Cruz said the first political donation he ever made was to Helms -- $10 -- and praised the late senator for his outspokenness. If Helms were alive, Cruz said, he would be taking a more aggressive stance against "radical Islamist terrorism" than President Barack Obama has been taking.
"If Jesse Helms were still with us, he would not shy away from this fight," Cruz said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Jesse Helms voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He strongly opposed both pieces of legislation, but was not yet in the Senate when they were being voted on. He voted against an extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982.