WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ted Cruz said Wednesday that he is certain that he never owned a Canadian passport, pushing back sharply on the idea that there is any legal controversy whatsoever.
“Of course not,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash as his campaign bus traveled from Sibley to Spirit Lake close to the Iowa-Minnesota border. “Yes, I’m sure. The media, with all due respect, love to engage in silly sideshows. We need to focus on what matters.”
Cruz’s unequivocal answer follows a claim by rival Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who is neck-and-neck with him in Iowa, that the Texas senator has had a Canadian passport. Cruz was born as an American citizen in Canada, and claims he did not know he had Canadian citizenship until informed by a reporter in 2013.
“The legal issue is straightforward,” he said, calling it a “non-issue.” “Listen, the Constitution and the laws of the United States are straightforward. The very first Congress defined the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad as a natural-born citizen.”
Cruz’s comments came as he tries to close the deal with Iowans on his most ambitious trip yet in the Hawkeye State. Cruz is in the middle of a six-day, 28-event bus tour, reveling in criticism from most of his fellow GOP rivals at nearly every stop.
Cruz has led Trump in the most recent batch of polling in Iowa. Trump, who at recent events has pondered aloud about the fact that he could lose Iowa to Cruz, has nevertheless recently begun intentionally poking at his faith, nationality, and as of Tuesday, his citizenship.
“I’d hate to see something like that get in his way,” Trump told The Washington Post, saying that Cruz could get tied up in a lawsuit if elected. “But a lot of people are talking about it and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”
Cruz’s defense Wednesday is effectively addressing head-on an issue he’d initially sought to deflect after Trump raised it.
During a campaign stop in Rock Rapids, Iowa, the Texas senator dismissed Trump’s recent comments as “political noise.”
Still, he wouldn’t utter a cross word about the national Republican front-runner, refusing to mention Trump by name.
“Look, as a legal matter, the question is straight-forward in law that the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad is a natural-born citizen,” Cruz told reporters. “People will continue to make political noise about it but as a legal matter it is straight-forward. I would note that it has occurred many times in history.”
While he was born in Canada, Cruz’s mother’s status as a U.S. citizen made him one as well.
He pointed to three former Republican presidential candidates, highlighting Arizona Sen. John McCain’s birth in Panama, Mitt Romney’s father George Romney’s birth in Mexico and former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater’s birth there before Arizona became a state.
Trump — who four years ago was demanding to see President Barack Obama’s birth certificate from Hawaii — dusted off the tactic once again, hitting Cruz over his Canadian birth in a Washington Post interview Tuesday night in Massachusetts.
“Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’ That’d be a big problem,” Trump told The Washington Post. “It’d be a very precarious one for Republicans because he’d be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don’t want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head.”
He added: “I’d hate to see something like that get in his way. But a lot of people are talking about it and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport.”
Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler said Cruz never had, nor applied for, a Canadian passport.
“It’s false,” he told CNN Wednesday.
It’s an awkward issue for Cruz, who found out about his Canadian citizenship in recent years and renounced it in 2014.
He has carefully avoided clashing with Trump on the campaign trail — operating under a philosophy that he could eventually inherit Trump’s supporters if the real estate mogul fades.
Just a day earlier, Cruz had tried to dismiss Trump’s comments about his Canadian birth by tweeting a YouTube clip of Fonzi jumping the shark in the sitcom “Happy Days.”
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.