Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz – accusing President Obama of waging an "economic boycott" of Israel with an FAA ban on U.S. flights there – ramped up his opposition Wednesday night, defiantly declaring he'd hold up dozens of State Department nominees.
Bristling over the cold-shoulder response from the State Department, which dismissed Cruz's assessment of the Federal Aviation Administration moratorium as “ridiculous and offensive,” Cruz vowed to place a procedural hold on the department's diplomatic nominees.
Fifty-eight names are pending
before the Senate, including 43 ambassadors, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.
"Serious questions were asked about the nature of a decision that handed Hamas a public relations victory and will cost Israel billions of dollars," the freshman Senator said in a statement on his website
"The only thing 'offensive' about this situation is how the Obama administration is spurning our allies to embolden our enemies; the only thing 'ridiculous' is the administration's response to basic questions.
"Until the State Department answers my questions, I will hold all State Department nominees."
A Senate Democratic leadership aide told the Huffington Post
Cruz's move doesn't mean much.
"Republicans are blocking nearly all nominees already, so this isn't a major change," the aide told the website. "In reality, all Cruz is doing is trying to find an excuse for the GOP's obstruction. They want to force us to waste limited Senate floor time and delay the approval of nominees in a timely manner."
Earlier Wednesday, Cruz blasted the flight ban as a politically driven "economic boycott" that would only hurt Israel and aid its enemies.
"President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands," said Cruz, of Texas, Roll Call reported.
Cruz also says the FAA ban hands Hamas a victory, a criticism voiced Tuesday by Rick Santorum.
"I'm sure they believe they have the security in hand to protect domestic and international airlines, commercial airline flights, and that this is simply a slap in the face of the Israelis and a win for Hamas," the former Pennsylvania Republican senator told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
Cruz said "no one wants to place civilian travelers in harm's way" – particularly after the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane over eastern Ukraine. But he asked whether the FAA's announcement was in fact "a political decision driven by the White House."
Cruz, a potential contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, said tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel.
"This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector [in Israel] through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers," Cruz said.
"It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done."
He also asked, if the FAA decision was based on airline safety, "why was Israel singled out, when flights are still permitted into Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen?"
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who defied the FAA ban and flew to Israel Tuesday night – nevertheless bristled at a question from CNN's Wolf Blitzer
that the moratorium was politically motivated.
“Don’t be ridiculous!" Bloomberg snapped. "Why would you think that? It’s an outrage to accuse one of our agencies––by asking the question, you’re implying our government does things for political reasons, and maybe everyone once in a while they do it, but it’s your job to prove it,” Bloomberg lectured. “Just the allegation against our government, I personally take as an offense.”
He added the “tone of the question, of trying to create dissension, it’s insulting to America.”
Cruz's comments also drew the rebuke of State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, NBC News reported.
"It's ridiculous and offensive, quite frankly," she said. "The FAA takes its responsibility very seriously. I will speak for them in that case. They make these decisions based solely on the security and safety of American citizens. For anyone to suggest otherwise is just ridiculous."
Cruz's spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, immediately returned fire, referring to a Hamas claim of the airport's closure as a "great victory" and the "crown of Israel's failure."
"We find the Obama administration's foreign policy to be ridiculous and offensive," Frazier said, Business Insider reported.
"The American people deserve answers to these questions, and Sen. Cruz will continue to press for them."
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