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Amid coronavirus, Ted Cruz’s Texas tour goes virtual

Cruz is holding 'virtual' meetings with groups across the Lone Star state

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is on another statewide tour of Texas. But this time, there’s no campaign bus. There’s not even any travel.

Like so many others, Cruz is communicating from the friendly confines of his own home because of the social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This crisis is unlike any crisis we’ve ever seen. In times of challenge, Texans come together and Americans come together,” Cruz said in a Google Hangouts Meet interview on Wednesday.

It is, of course, the literal coming together that puts people at risk as the coronavirus spreads across the country, so sometimes, the new reality means an interview will be interrupted, for a moment, by a senator’s 11-year-old daughter.

“In my time in the Senate, I have seen multiple disasters befall the state of Texas, from Hurricane Harvey — the second most costly disaster in U.S. history — to the explosion in West, Texas. Every time we face disaster, Texans help fellow Texans, first responders step into the breach, and we come together,” Cruz told CQ Roll Call. “With the coronavirus pandemic, coming together physically is a challenge.”

“I am working to do exactly the same thing, to be there on the ground in the affected communities, but to do so virtually, and between telephone and video conferences, we’re able to hear the concerns of Texans and discuss the challenges we’re facing, Cruz said.

This week, Cruz “met” with the Texas Trucking Association, Texas Hospital Association, multiple chambers of commerce and energy executives from across the Lone Star state.

Texas Trucking Association President and CEO John Esparza said in an interview that it was the senator’s office that reached out to set up a virtual meeting, which about 25 members of the business group attended in an effort to provide a diverse set of perspectives with the industry.

“We as a membership regularly go to Washington and take a group and talk about our issues,” Esparza said, saying they approached the virtual meeting Monday much like a fly-in.

Cruz fielded a variety of questions in a conversation that went about an hour, Esparza said. As is true for many small businesses and smaller operators, Esparza said members expressed a “lot of anxiety and unsettling about what comes next.”

Texas is also being affected by the “crash in the energy sector going on currently, and it has a huge ripple effect going on in the trucking industry”

Cruz is continuing to hold these virtual meetings with groups from across the state. Wednesday featured calls with people in Tyler, Texarkana and Lufkin, his office said.

“So long as the public health dictates necessitate that we limit person-to-person contact, we’ll continue to use the tools of technology to stay and touch and to hear and address the concerns of Texans,” Cruz said.

The Texas Republican said he continued to have concern about the implementation of expanded unemployment benefits, including the possibility that the $600 per week increase in the benefit level was leading some people to make more money by not having a job.

“I have heard that concern directly from small businesses in Texas,” Cruz said, pointing to the GOP effort to amend the most recent COVID-19 economic response package to limit the total amount of unemployment compensation to actual earnings.

The Treasury Department had said the computer systems used by some states would not allow for the level of specificity in making payments that would have been required by the Republican amendment led by Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.

Cruz has also focused on the effects on the aviation industry, which has major operations in Texas. He is chairman of the Commerce subcommittee that oversees aviation and space policy.

“On its own, the airline industry employs 750,000 people directly, and it indirectly accounts for millions of more jobs. Without help, hundreds of thousands of these jobs would have evaporated overnight as airlines tried to reconcile their costs with plummeting revenue,” Cruz wrote in a Fox News opinion piece with Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo. “While Congress’ action is certainly meant to help those workers and their families survive this crisis, it also reflects our view that this industry will play a central role in our country’s economic revival.”

Graves is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

As for the set of actions by Congress, Cruz said he backed the effort to expand funding for Paycheck Protection Program lending from the Small Business Association, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought to pass Thursday. That effort was felled when Democrats objected. They sought a counter-proposal from Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, but Republicans objected to that.

“Millions of small businesses are facing enormous economic pressures as government policies have blocked them from their customers and effectively shut them down,” Cruz said. “From restaurants to bars to movie theaters to hair salons and nail salons, small businesses across the country and in Texas are hurting mightily.”

The senator, who supported the most recent $2 trillion relief package but has had a fiscally conservative track record, suggested waiting to see how the month of April develops before deciding what additional measures should be considered.

“I think we should look at the question at the end of the month or early in May and examine where is the public health crisis,” Cruz said. “Have we flattened the curve? Is the rate of new cases going up or going down? Is the fatality rate going up or going down? If we’ve made real progress, which I hope and pray we will have, in stopping the pandemic, that will be vital.”

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